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Trip Report - Graduation Weekend

Illinois
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Trip Report - Graduation Weekend

This trip report won’t have any relevance to the majority of travelers - no Statue of Liberty, no Broadway or Times Square, no Central Park. We traveled to New York to attend the graduation ceremonies for our son and niece. We did, however, visit four of the boroughs (and New Jersey!) in this whirlwind three day trip.

I booked plane tickets on Southwest Airlines in December... then re-booked, re-booked again, and re-booked a third time. Southwest allows you to change your flights with no change fees, so when the ticket price came down, I re-booked and was given a credit for a future flight. Shortly after that, we realized that we needed to return to Chicago earlier than planned - flight times at Newark worked out better than LaGuardia, so we changed airports too. In April, we received an invitation to a school luncheon for graduates, so we re-booked yet again. I love Southwest!

We couldn’t decide whether to stay in Manhattan and take public transportation to the Fordham commencement in the Bronx and the St. John’s commencement in Queens, OR stay in Yonkers and rent a car. We crunched the numbers, weighing the cost of a Manhattan hotel versus the cost of a cheaper suburban hotel and paying for a car ($127). We decided to rent the car and stay in Yonkers. (In retrospect, I’m not so sure that we made the best choice.) If you are going to rent a car, be prepared for driving in the city. My husband is up for the challenge and did a great job of dealing with merging traffic, pedestrians, finding a place to park, and last minute directions for turns. I, on the other hand, would not be a good candidate for driving in New York City and would have been stressed beyond belief.

Illinois
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1. Re: Trip Report - Graduation Weekend

We landed at Newark late on Thursday evening, and not wanting a long drive in an unfamiliar area late at night, we stayed at the Hampton Inn near the airport ($167 per night, including taxes). It took 15 minutes for what should have been a five minute trip. Samantha (our GPS) would give a direction, and once the turn was made, she would disapprovingly say “re-calculating.” It was extremely frustrating!

On Friday morning, we made the drive to the Bronx. Along the way we noted that the toll to cross the George Washington Bridge is $13. Looking at the Port Authority website, I see that there is no toll going from New York to New Jersey, and that it is cheaper for E-Z Pass users. I originally wasn’t sure how commuters could ever afford to cross this bridge to get to their jobs.

Thanks to Google Maps, I had “walked” the streets around Arthur Avenue near where our son lives, but it was nice to see the real thing, and we spent some time strolling around and relaxing in the neighborhood park. We attended a luncheon at Michael Angelo’s Restaurant for the students in my son’s program. It was fun to meet my son’s classmates and some of his professors. The servers brought out salads, followed by big platters of calamari, tomatoes with mozzarella and basil, rigatoni in tomato sauce, spaghetti with broccoli, and the most delicious rice and cheese balls. It was a fantastic meal - but it wasn’t over - next came platters of chicken, then veal, then eggplant parmesan, then roasted vegetables, followed by plates of beautiful little pastries. I guess this is an Italian thing! It was all wonderful and we were stuffed.

We had some free time, so we visited the nearby New York Botanical Garden. This place is gorgeous, and worth the time to visit if you are in the area. I felt like we barely scratched the surface. We weren’t in our usual see-as-much-as-you-can mode, but more in a stop-and-smell-the-roses mode. Actually, the roses weren’t blooming yet, but we did visit the lilac garden and smelled the lilacs. The azalea garden is so pretty, and we wandered around the forest and waterfall areas. I was surprised to see all the rock outcroppings and the hilly terrain. We missed most of the garden areas, but I definitely will return someday. The cost is $10 for the grounds-only pass, and admission for my son was free. In his four years at Fordham, which is just across the street, this was his first visit. He talked to a friendly volunteer about canoeing here along the Bronx River - this could be a really fun activity.

We returned to campus for the Baccalaureate Mass, and then stopped at Full Moon Pizza for some slices. For dessert, we had cannoli and gelato at the Delillo Pastry Shop. I wish that we had shops like this in our town. One thing I noticed was the large number of people on the street, in the park, and in the shops in this neighborhood.

We stayed two nights at the Hampton Inn in Yonkers ($155 per night, including taxes). This was an exceptionally nice Hampton, with a big room and nice views of the surrounding woods. Because of our Hilton Honors level, we were given bottles of water and a chocolate bar upon check in. The hotel is only twenty minutes from Fordham.

Saturday was graduation day - perfect temperatures and cloudy, so it was pleasant to sit outside without getting a sunburn. The Fordham campus is beautifully landscaped with lots of tall trees and big stone buildings. On our first visit here four years ago, it was dreary and rainy, so my son was surprised when he started school and saw his new surroundings. Chuck Schumer was a surprise speaker at the ceremony - it was exciting to listen to a speech from someone with his political prominence. The commencement speaker was Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent. He talked about having guts; sadly I did not have the guts to tell my neighbors to be quiet and listen to his speech. Dion DiMucci (from the musical group Dion and the Belmonts) was given an honorary degree, which I thought was pretty cool. My husband noticed a man in a suit on the roof of a building overlooking the ceremony. We assumed he was part of a security detail - I know that safety has really been beefed up recently, and they were expecting 15,000 people on campus.

We headed back to Arthur Avenue after the ceremony for some sandwiches at Tino’s Deli. My son is a regular, and the folks there know him and gave him a T-shirt as a a graduation gift. We had some pastries at Palumbo’s Pastry Shop before going to the neighborhood church and heading back to my son’s apartment.

Sunday was graduation day at St. John’s. It took a little longer than expected to get to Queens since some roads were closed in the Bronx and it was difficult for the GPS to adjust. There was a steady rain, so the graduation guests had the option of sitting in a warm dry classroom and seeing the ceremony on video screens. This was a no-brainer for us, and we could see the whole ceremony and be comfortable, which was nice. Unfortunately our niece didn’t have the same choice and was sitting in the rain for 2.5 hours! She was soaked and I felt so bad for her. Peter King was the commencement speaker here, so another big political name. We stayed on campus and visited with our family after the ceremony.

We had a 6 p.m. flight, so I wanted to be at EWR by 4. We had checked the time and milage from St. John’s to EWR. It was just 40 minutes, and we expected no problems on a Sunday afternoon. My watch said 2:40, so we knew we had time to join our family for a late lunch. At the last minute, I decided it might be best to go straight to the airport. I worry way too much! We took a wrong turn and had a slight detour in a pretty neighborhood in Queens, but the real drama started when we got to Manhattan. We see traffic jams in Chicago, but nothing like this! We inched along with everyone else. I had expected to be very early to the airport, and now it looked like we would miss our flight. Do not fly out of Newark if you are going to be in Queens! As we entered the Holland Tunnel and traffic started to move, I checked my phone and saw a text from our son that our flight was delayed - what a relief. It ended up being an hour and forty five minutes to get from St. John’s to the rental car drop off, so we could have made the original flight time. However, this was some stressful drive.

This trip brought back memories of our first trip to New York four years ago to see Fordham. I had plans to visit my son at school, but this was our first time back since dropping him off as a freshman. On that first trip, we took the subway to our Soho hotel as soon as we arrived. We were confused about where to get off, and couldn’t quite understand the announcement about the station where the train had stopped. We told our son to exit the train, but then the doors closed just as my husband and I were about to exit. My son stared at me through the closed doors as the train pulled away. He didn’t have a cell phone, and we weren’t sure if he had any money or knew the name of the hotel where we were staying. Today, he is a true New Yorker, and will be staying on to complete more classes and work as an intern at a firm in Manhattan. My guess is that this will be his home from here on out.

Thank you, New York, for taking care of him these last four years.

Northeast us
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2. Re: Trip Report - Graduation Weekend

Very nice :)

New Jersey
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3. Re: Trip Report - Graduation Weekend

I enjoyed reading your report. Thanks for sharing and congratulations on your son's graduation.

I think your GPS is broken. :-) 40 minutes from SJU in Queens to Newark Airport? It takes 40 minutes to just get to Manhattan.

Illinois
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4. Re: Trip Report - Graduation Weekend

Yes, We need to update our GPS - after this trip, that is on my to do list! We got the 40 minute time from Google Maps. I guess you have to always allow lots of extra time if you are driving to the airport!

New York City, New...
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5. Re: Trip Report - Graduation Weekend

Congratulations!!

Dallas, Texas
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for Boston, Orlando, Walt Disney World
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6. Re: Trip Report - Graduation Weekend

Very nice TR glad you had a great time in the city and congrats to your son.

7. Re: Trip Report - Graduation Weekend

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