20 things to see and do on your first trip to New York City

Our trip to New York City took a fair amount of planning.

Apart from the flights and the accommodation (which in hindsight was the easiest part of the organising) we had to make the most of our fourteen nights in the Big Apple.

Luckily for me, Lloyd loves the organisational part so coming up with an itinerary which suited us both was a breeze.

There’s SO much to do that seeing everything there is to offer is virtually going to be impossible in such a short timeframe; however there are those quintessential hotspots that everyone should visit at least once.

Bryant Park

Especially at Christmas time to visit the Christmas Market and the free ice rink! You can either join in the fun and end up on your bum (yeah, I like a rhyme) or you can sit on the sidelines sipping hot chocolate from one of the many little foodie sheds in the vicinity.

Site link here

Bryant Park

Central Park

Needless to say, Central Park is a must visit at any time of the year! If you happen to see this park in all weathers like we did then you’re even luckier. The park is huge and lush; full of trees and lakes and all that good stuff that we’re missing here in Malta. It’s a well needed breathing space for the residents living in this concrete jungle. There’s normally a musician or two so take a seat nearby and enjoy the grooves…and if you like what you hear then leave a tip!

Site link here

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The Museum of Natural History

It’s a bit of a tradition of ours to visit a museum or two when travelling. I have to say that this was by far the most awesome natural history museum that I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting (although the NHM in London is an extremely close second). There’s so much to see and do that you may even feel a little overwhelmed by the amount there is to take in. Be sure to wear comfy shoes because your feet will be killing you by the end of a full day here! Oh, and if it’s a rainy day be prepared for the swarm of likeminded tourists who will all have the same idea of visiting a museum too.

Tip: Instead of heading for the main entrance (the one directly opposite Central Park), go to the entrance on the right which is just in front of the Theodore Roosevelt Park – hardly anyone seems to use this entrance for some unknown reason so get there at opening time and there will be little to no queue 😉

Site link here

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Big Bus Tour

We took the uptown and downtown tours on separate days and really I couldn’t recommend it enough. So far, in my experience, the guides you find in New York are second to none; knowledgable, friendly and funny. It gets a bit nippy at the top of the bus so make sure that you bring a scarf to cover your face!

Oh the places you’ll go!

Downtown Loop: Times Square, the Empire State Building, One World Trade Centre, Wall Street & Battery Park etc.

Uptown Loop: Central Park, Harlem, the Museum Mile and the Upper West and Upper East Side etc.

Site link here

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The Met – 5th Avenue

Firstly, the building is incredible. Exterior and interior included. I only wish that we’d had more time to spend there as we had arrived quite late. If only we had skipped the Guggenheim and its pretentious exhibition at the time (sorry, not sorry).

The building holds art spanning over 5000 years and from all cultures and time periods. One day is definitely not enough, let alone the few hours that we had! Favourite areas that we saw were Egyptian and Asian Art (particularly the medieval Indian sculptures <3).

Site link here

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The High Line

One of the many highlights of our trip was walking the 2.33km newly refurbished railroad track which used to carry goods to and from the industrial district in Manhattan way back in 1934. Getting to experience Manhattan in a more serene setting was really quite a welcome experience. It’s so well maintained, full of plants and quirky pieces of art along the way to keep all visitors engaged. You’re above the city, but close enough to still feel a part of it.

Site link here

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Top of the Rock – Observation Deck

One of the best views of Manhattan can be viewed from the 70th floor of the Rockefeller Center and despite the massive amount of tourists this was an experience not to be missed. The views were simply incredible. We visited on New Years Eve and there are few better ways to spend your last day of the year! You suddenly realise just how vast New York City is (Central Park included!)

Site link here

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The Empire State Building

Like the Top of the Rock, the Empire State Building has a view not to be missed. We were fortunate enough to have an amazing view of the Empire State from our hotel room window but going up to the observation deck standing at 381m tall at night time, staring out at the bright lights of New York City was epic and once in a lifetime. Flashbacks of Sleepless in Seattle came into my head; you know the scene where Jonah forgets his teddy bear at the top of the Empire State and he and Sam come back to retrieve it. Low and behold, Annie has picked up the teddy and turns around and they finally meet each other! (I’m such a sap)

Warning: It gets really busy so be prepared to wait a little while if you want to get your instagram pic because there will be a ton of people wanting to do the same!

Site link here

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One World Memorial

I think it was important to both of us to pay our respects for the ones who lost their lives on 9/11. It was a tough one to visit and the day we visited was probably the most fitting as the weather was dire. Inside the museum there is a large space where you can go and sit and listen to recordings of friends and family talk about their loved ones. It’s an emotional experience and I couldn’t help but feel bad for not sitting to listen to them all. We didn’t really take photos of the memorial as it didn’t feel quite right to do so.

One world memorial

The Circle Line Cruise

I have to admit; I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this tour as much as I did. When I saw it on the New York Pass guidebook I kind of skimmed over it but Lloyd thought it would be good so I thought, meh, why not? It actually turned out to be a really nice day. We sat on the outside of the boat feeling very cold for the most part but it was a really great way of viewing the outskirts of the city. The tour guide was informative and possessed a storytelling voice. I could totally imagine him as a grandad reading a storybook to his grandchildren, d’aww! We chose “The best of NYC” tour and we both equally loved it.

You’ll get to see sights such as The Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, United Nations and plenty more.

Site link here

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Madison Square Garden Tour

Lloyd had really wanted to watch a game here but since we didn’t get the opportunity to, the next best thing was the MSG tour which is included in the New York Pass. The tour groups are pretty small, maybe no more than 20 at a time and last about 60 minutes at a push. The guides do rush you through a bit, I guess because there is so much to get to and they don’t want too many groups loitering at the same time but nonetheless it was an interesting experience seeing the timeline of famous faces and sports stars to have performed and played there.

We got to see what a million dollar season ticket gets you and it’s pretty spectacular! We also got to see the locker rooms for the Knicks and Rangers. There was me thinking that they got ready in “high school type” locker rooms [insert rofl smiley]. These guys are treated like royalty! How little I know about sports…

Site link here

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Watch an NBA and NHL game!

Seriously, if you want to immerse yourself in an all american experience then watching a game is an absolute must. I absolutely loved watching both games; though probably the NHL game more because it felt down to earth and family oriented whereas the NBA game felt more like a performance. Or maybe it was because we watched Lloyd’s favourite team Edmonton Oilers play so I was rooting for them to win – which they did!

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Brooklyn Bridge

Standing tall since 1883 when it first opened to the public, it’s one of the oldest bridges not just in New York but in the United States. A notable event which happened just a few days after it opened was a stampede caused by doubts that the bridge would collapse. To quash any doubts, 21 elephants were walked along the bridge to prove otherwise.

Walking across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge is kind of a must for your first visit to the city. and it’s also a really nice stroll so why not?

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn

Not spending more time here is probably one of my biggest regrets and reasons that we must go back again. My first memory of entering Brooklyn is my bag breaking just as we exited the Brooklyn Bridge. Cue me holding my bag to my body as if my life depended on it until we found a new bag to replace it. But walking along the quaint streets was enough to make me want to come back for more. Brooklyn seemed to have a much more laid back feel to it. Maybe next time we’ll get a little Airbnb there or something!

New York Public Library

Millions of books delicately gift wrapped in this magnificent piece of architecture. It’s the quietest space you may find in New York City. It’s a marvel. Enjoy.

Site link here

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Watch the sun set over the Hudson River

On our first full day and after walking almost 20 km, we ended our day with the sun going down over the Hudson. It was perfection.

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Grand Central Station

The station is a beautiful piece of architecture in itself. The ceiling is particularly interesting and almost church-like with its painted ceiling which represents the winter night sky. We were pressed for time so we only had a quick look around. Next time we would definitely take the audio tour to add some more context to our visit.

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Times Square

The epitome of the NYC experience is standing in the middle of Times Square and taking in the bright lights and sounds that surround you.

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Strangely this was one of the only photos I have of Time Square. I think I was just too fascinated by all the shiny lights and screens!

The Statue of Liberty

Get up close and personal with lady Liberty. Although the likes of the Empire State and Rockefeller tower over her, she’s a sight to behold all on her own.

Statue of Liberty close up

Watch a show on Broadway

For our birthday (his 26th and my 30th) we went to see The Lion King and I don’t say this very often but OH EM GEE it was amazeballs! I was practically crying with happiness from the beginning. A definite highlight to our trip.

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Well that turned out to be a long post and that wasn’t even the half of it!

Do you have any tips for places to visit in NYC? I would love to hear from you!

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Flying with Virgin Atlantic – Premium Economy

In the months leading up to New York we already knew that we wanted a little extra comfort for our trip. It was both of our birthdays (we share the same day!) and it was also my 30th so I was hitting quite a milestone and felt I needed something to remember the day by.

Being that accommodation is hugely expensive in NYC, let alone during the Christmas/New Years period we weren’t really prepared to spend a ridiculous amount on a hotel with a bellboy (our hotel was expensive and nice enough without that) so we looked into the services provided by different airlines flying from Europe.

I think we looked at British Airways, Alitalia and Norwegian before settling on Virgin Atlantic. I’ve always found the flight attendants on Virgin so glamorous so flying with them was going to be a real treat!

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Virgin Atlantic welcome drinks

Welcome drinks include water and your choice of either some champagne or orange juice!

Virgin Atlantic food

Granted, this doesn’t look particularly appetising but it was actually really tasty!

What do you get?

Dedicated check-in area in Departures. I’m not sure this applies everywhere but it did at least in London Heathrow and JFK.

Priority boarding. Personally not a huge deal to me when your seats are already selected (which you get to pick yourself online) however it’s always nice to board the plane first and settle in.

On arrival you’ll be greeted at your seat with a choice of a glass of bubbly or orange juice. Naturally we went for the bubbly on the way out but I decided to take the orange juice for the way back.

Extra leg room – stretch out! So important on a long haul flight and especially for the longer legged of us (not me, ha).

Upgraded dining experience – You won’t find plastic utensils and plates here folks!

In-seat laptop power

There are of course the usual amenities provided to all such as complimentary drinks, snacks, in-flight entertainment (which has a load of great options), blanket, pillow and a pouch with a toothbrush and toothpaste etc. for if you’re on an evening flight.

How much did it all cost?

In this post Lloyd breaks down the entire cost of our trip however the flight alone cost us €1,834 (without including the price of the flight from Malta – UK)

As I said above, this was a special treat for us and the most we collectively have ever spent on a trip but it was something that might be once in a lifetime. My philosophy on these types of things is that we can always make more money. You’ll never have the memories and experiences if you don’t go and do what makes you happy!

What about the food?

When you’re checking in online you can choose your preferences. I went for  the lacto-vegetarian option.

I’m probably going to be alone again when I say this but I love plane food! Maybe it’s just a nostalgic feeling for me or something but I always find the food so tasty and the food served on VA was yummy. You won’t go hungry.

Was it worth it?

Without a doubt, yes! I have always been a lover of airports and long haul flights (does this make me weird? I always get funny looks when I say it). There’s so much to do that before you know it you’ve arrived at your destination. Having the extra comforts (and lets face it, it’s a bit quieter from my experience too) makes the journey so much more bearable if you don’t enjoy flying.

Have you ever flown with VA and what was your experience? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Budgeting the Big Apple

For our trip to New York we were going during our birthdays and around Christmas time so we did give our budget a little boost to make the holiday that bit nicer.

The first thing to work out was how we would get there and back. Living in Malta made things a little more awkward as we had to juggle the timings around to fit in with flights to and from the island we call home. We basically had 3 options- fly to London, to Istanbul or fly via France, but luckily, there are a number of flights in and out of Heathrow throughout each day and so that was the first decision made.

The one thing I would definitely suggest is you plan well in advance. As someone that enjoys the organisational side of things and to have a plan, this was right up my street – I was chomping at the bit to book and confirm everything around 6 months before the trip!

I’ve included our list of expenses for the trip, bear in mind, this trip was a huge treat for us:

When you look at the total figures it is a considerable amount of money. However, this was over a full two weeks, sparing no expense and fitting in as much as we possibly could.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it took a lot of saving and a big effort to plan everything in plenty of time to ensure we got our absolute money’s worth.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing. I loved our trip and I have nothing but fond memories of our time there. I genuinely would not change a single aspect of what we did for our first trip to New York. Having said that, there were definitely things that could have been done at less expense.

  • To start with, although it is something I’d suggest you try at least once, Premium Economy can obviously be skipped. This can save a few hundred each way depending on flight times.
  • Generally, the further you book in advance, the better.
  • Try booking flights that land early on your first day and leave late on your last in order to maximise your time.
  • Staying outside of Manhattan will significantly reduce your expenses, for the sake of a budget friendly, ten minute bus/ferry trip. Similar hotels the other side of the Hudson can be around half the price of their Manhattan neighbours, with skyline views to boot.
  • Make the most of those $1 slices! Grabbing a slice to tide you over rather than pay $10 for a quick bite can not only help you to feel like a bona-fide New Yorker, but over a whole trip it could save you a nice wedge of cash.
  • Getting to and from the airport you should make use of the incredible New York public transport network (as long as you don’t mind dragging your luggage around).
  • Plan your days well. Remember – it’s a holiday, you don’t need an hour by hour itinerary with designated toilet breaks! However, it helps to consider seeing sites in the same areas and always take queueing times into account. Once you have an idea of what you want to see, take a look at the New York Pass and other options to reduce sightseeing costs.

 

The Monkeys of Gibraltar

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With the amount of photos that I took of the fascinating Barbary Macaques on my short but sweet visit to Gibraltar, I felt like they deserved their own blog post.

Gibraltar is one of the few places where you can see Barbary Macaques in the wild and the only wild population in Europe. Whilst Africa is sadly seeing a decline of these primates; in Gibraltar they are absolutely thriving and it’s clear why, when you see how well they’re looked after by the locals.

Before heading up the rock I was feeling slightly nervous. I’d heard tales of ‘attacks’ and had been told to take care of my belongings because they’re well known for being light fingered! Luckily I had little to worry about. It was early morning and they were docile for the most part – only slightly curious of us but mostly used to having a camera lens pointed at them.

I could have spent the whole day just watching them. So human in their expressions and on the most part, so gentle.

Here are a few photos I took of these fascinating creatures. Enjoy!

You can also check the full post about my short experience in Gibraltar here.

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New York, New York

As a big fan of most things American, heading to the other side of the Atlantic has always been high on my bucket list. I couldn’t wait to ramble around and take in the hustle and bustle of the “capital of the world”.

Our two weeks in New York were an inspiring and humbling experience, living in a city that is and has been home to so many people of all colours and creed, has so much history and has also seen such success and tragedy.

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Our first day was a very early start, thanks to the jet-lag, but our first glimpse of the city fog free was incredibly rewarding!

This post is a little taster of what we got up to during that time and we also thought it would be helpful to include the links for the food spots we recommend. We’ll put up a bunch more posts with a lot more detail in the near future!

26th – I wanna be a part of it…!!! Flight from Malta to Heathrow and then Heathrow to JFK.

27th – Bryant Park + Ice Rink, Macy’s, Times Square, M&M’s World, Central Park, Tavern on the Green, Bethesda Terrace + Fountain, street performers, Rockefeller Ice Rink + tree, sunset over the Hudson, Bombay Sandwich Co. and The StoreHouse.

28th – Bryant Park again, The Hummus & Pita Co., Lion King at the Minskoff Theater and Waldy’s pizza.

29th – Museum of Natural History, Central Park, Argo Tea Cafe, Rockefeller Center and Nintendo store. Home to dry off, The StoreHouse for Veggie Burger – AMAZING!

30th – Museum of Natural History and Domino’s pizza.

31st – Took a look at Times Square before the crowds came (around midday!) Top of the Rock, Grand Central, The Little Beet, Central Park.

1st – Big Bus Tour downtown route, Sim sick so not feeling up for much. Slept it off, Terri’s for late lunch, Indikitch, Flatiron building, Madison Square park and top of the Empire State Building.

2nd – Uptown route Big Bus Tour, through Harlem, museum of the city of NY, Guggenheim, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Izumi sushi and 2 bros pizza.

3rd – Water Taxi, 9/11 memorial and museum, Bento Neuveau for noodles, Water Taxi back via Statue of Liberty, by CHLOE. – amazing vegan food.

4th – Circle Line best of NY tour (sit on the left side as boat circles the island anti-clockwise), Romeo and Juliet Colombian Coffee cafe, Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum, NY Pizza Suprema.

5th – Madison Square Garden tour, NY public library, Maoz falafel, Storehouse again.

6th – High Line, Greenwich Village, FRIENDS building, Little Italy, Brooklyn bridge, Brooklyn, watched Brooklyn Nets against Cleveland Cavaliers (1st NBA game), also first subway journey.

7th- Snow day!!! Bite for late lunch before getting subway to New Jersey for Devils against Edmonton Oilers (1st NHL game).

8th – Last full day… Central Park, 91st Street Garden, Fika for coffee. Packed and ate Chinese food from New Dynasty.

9th – Taxi at 2pm, ate lunch at Bite. Flew home.

 

Exploring the rock of Gibraltar

Up until a few weeks before this trip, Gibraltar had not even entered by mind as a country to visit.

What was there to see really?

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A rock?

Well, yes admittedly you won’t need too much time to explore but it’s still definitely worth a look…especially if you’re a monkey lover!

I actually had an ulterior motive for going to Gibraltar which was work related. Our company was setting up a new team and I went there for a week to help with the transition. Thanks work! Unfortunately as the trip was for business I only had one full day to explore so I knew that I had to make the most of it.

I also knew it would involve the rock and seeing the monkeys!

At 8am, my colleague and I set off with a mission to reach the peak or at least get to the highest point that we possibly could. Getting to the actual rock to start our incline was pretty simple, having said that we did take a wrong turn at the beginning and ended up adding an additional 60-100 stairs to our journey – I really really don’t like stairs!

We started off from the town on the northern side (or to the left of the rock if you’re facing it) and made our way upwards passing Moorish Castle and our very first Barbary Macaque!

Seeing him (I decided it was a ‘him’ called George) sitting there so peacefully immediately put my nerves to rest. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from wild apes but I had heard some stories about some not so good experiences on the rock. People feeding them scraps of food has made them confident and sometimes aggressive. I was half expecting him to leap off of the roof and attempt to steal my camera! Alas, nope. George was extremely cool, calm and in his own chilled out world.

Barbary Macaque

With every incline the scenery became more and more beautiful. That mountain in the distance in Spain looked very inviting.

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Gibraltar Hike 2

We encountered another friend along the way!

Barbary Macaque Gibraltar

Some other unexpected friends were spotted too. Its ears perked up at the sound of my camera clicking, bless. Sorry bunny!

Rabbit Gibraltar

We managed to find a path to the newly opened Windsor Bridge which is a suspended bridge built over a 50 metre gorge. I’m pretty good with heights but for the faint hearted it might be a little unnerving!

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The walk around the rock was surprisingly peaceful despite being such a touristic spot. I guess it was a good thing that we had left so early. It also seemed to have affected the notoriously naughty monkeys which were remarkably calm in our presence. That’s not to say that I wasn’t still a bit nervous. Being in such a close proximity to these amazing animals you realise just how much you are in their territory. They won’t give a damn if you want to pass them by on a narrow stairwell. You wait for them, not the other way around and that was fine by me!

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I arrived nervous and left in total awe for these amazing creatures! I could have watched them for hours.

Photographing Macaque

If you’re stopping by Gibraltar I highly recommend visiting the rock on foot if you’re able to. You’ll have so many more spontaneous and quieter moments with the monkeys than you would if you’re in a tour bus (which are plentiful if that’s the option you’d like to choose). There’s also the cable car to take you to the top which I think would be a cool experience too, especially if you’re not a fan of steps and hills!

St Michaels Cave GibraltarSt Michaels cave

If stalactites and stalagmites are your thing then a visit to St Michael’s Cave is a must. Thousands of years of rainwater seeping into the limestone has turned the rock into this magnificent cave fit for a genie. The light show in the auditorium space really sets the mood and if you’re lucky, there may just be someone with a fantastic voice to resonate around the cave. Don’t Cry for me Argentina sounds pretty epic with cave acoustics, trust me!

The Great Siege Tunnels Gibraltar

Our final stop before making our way back down were The Great Siege Tunnels; a 52 kilometre network of tunnels inside of the rock. Heading in alone felt a little eery. I can only imagine what it must have been like for the soldiers who had lived inside there.

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There’s plenty of interesting information to read inside the tunnels which left my imagination wandering here there and everywhere.

You can purchase a ticket which gives you access to all of the above and more by visiting St Michaels Cave for just a small fee (less than 20 euros).

It may not have been a location on my bucket list but meeting wild monkeys close up should have been. I had an amazing day and if there had been more time I would have ventured up the rock again alone.

Check out Visit Gibraltar for more things to do.

 

New York State of Mind

 

New York City. Gotham. The Big Apple. The City of Dreams. The Capital of the World. The Center Centre of the Universe.

I suppose before meeting Lloyd, I had never really believed I would make it to New York. Not because the lure wasn’t strong. I’m not sure what it was. Maybe I just felt that the USA was way out of my grasp and something to be admired from afar.

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It’s been almost one month since we left and I still can’t shake the thoughts and feelings away.

So much happened in those two weeks.

 

We walked 190km of the city. We celebrated our birthdays – I turned 30 and Lloyd turned 26. We saw in the New Year together for the first time in three years! We saw our first Broadway show (and it did not disappoint); watched our first live NBA and NHL game, walked through Central Park and across Brooklyn Bridge. We saw the twinkling lights of the city from the top of two skyscrapers; marvelled at The Museum of Natural History and The Met. Stood in the Guggenheim bewildered by the so called art of Agnes Martin and wondered if she was some kind of evil genius or if we just simply don’t know what art is (and based on a quick Google search it seems the latter). We journeyed the veins of the city by bus and the saw the formidable Manhattan skyline by boat (twice). We said a short and sweet hello to Lady Liberty – dwarfed in comparison to the skyscrapers but standing strong nonetheless. We took in the views and the art from the Highline and strolled along the Hudson river whilst enjoying a peaceful sunset or two. We froze from the bitter minus temperatures of winter. We got drenched. We struggled through the biting winds during a twelve hour snow storm. We drank copious amounts of coffee (sometimes accompanied by donuts, naturally) and we ate amazing vegetarian food. Every. Single. Day.

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This is so much of what we did but maybe not even half of it.

American Flag

 

We can’t wait to share our thoughts and experiences in our upcoming posts!