CHAPTER 1:  IN WHICH WE DISCOVER THAT NORTH AMERICA IS NOT REALLY NORTH

Northern Exposure, Days 1 & 2:  Atlanta to Amsterdam to Copenhagen.  As anyone who knows us can attest, when summer arrives in Georgia, we begin seeking a path north.  Two years ago we found relief in Newfoundland and Maine; last year we retreated to Alaska and Canada's northern territories.  This year's version of our summer escape takes us to northern Europe, which has brought us to a completely different understanding of the word "north."
Overlay shows continents at equivalent latitude.
As the overlay map demonstrates, what constitutes 'north' in North America is closer in latitudinal equivalence to southern Europe.  Our home state of Georgia is at the same latitude as Morocco.  London is farther north than Calgary, and Montreal is south of Paris.  So when we decided to go north in Europe, we'd be considerably closer to the polar region than our "northern" forays in the U.S. and Canada.
Northern Exposure trip plans
Our six-week "Northern Exposure" journey will take us to the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  Since we will be "in the neighborhood," we also plan side trips to Minsk, Belarus, and St. Petersburg, Russia.  After plotting out the places we'll visit on a map (above), we thought it looked rather like a constellation, so we decided to see what would happen if we connected the cities, using straight lines for flights and water travel and road lines for land travel.  Admittedly, we felt a little sheepish about the result.
Maybe connecting the dots was a baaaad idea.
After departing with KLM from Atlanta Monday night at (yawn) 10:30, we arrived in Amsterdam mid-day on Tuesday, grateful that we had been able to upgrade to the last two lie-flat seats in first class with our mileage currency.  A brief layover gave us just enough time to hike from the terminus of one concourse to the end of another in the all-walking Schipol Airport.  Another KLM flight, just under two hours, took us on to Copenhagen.  After almost 5,000 miles on less than four hours of sleep, we were quick to make the acquaintance of our bed in a hotel near the airport.

Just an hour's nap refreshed us enough to visit the on-site Bark restaurant for dinner and enjoy a walk in the area before retiring to our room for the evening.  Tomorrow we'll spend the day in Copenhagen (a preview since we'll be here four days at the end of the trip) before flying tomorrow evening to Riga, Latvia, to begin a Baltic road trip.

Two-Day Stats
    •  Started in:  Atlanta
    •  Ended in:  Copenhagen
    •  Miles flown:  4,795
    •  Miles walked:  6.57
    •  Weather:  93° (Atlanta) to 59° (Copenhagen)
    •  Number of times we inquired about upgrading seats:  6
    •  Decent restaurants in Atlanta's international terminal:  0
    •  Miles used to upgrade:  47,500 each (and worth every one!)
    •  Screaming children on second flight:  too many
    •  Bicycle stands in Copenhagen arena parking lot:  2,243


Loved:  Acquiring an upgrade to first class with lie-flat seats meant we were able to get some genuine rest on the overnight flight.  

Lacking:  Appealing restaurants at Atlanta's international terminal.  Planning to have a relaxing dinner there, we were appalled at the miserly selection of eating establishments in this part of the world's busiest airport.  All save two—a seafood house and a meat market—were fast food joints offering counter service food court style.

Learned:  Though it was fraught with uncertainty, upgrading our seats at the last minute cost us only about 15% of the dollar equivalent difference at the time we made reservations.  But you need luck—and a lot of it—for this strategy to work.

Much to our surprise, we also learned that if you do have lie-flat seats, a longer flight is better.  On our 8.25-hour flight to Amsterdam, the first two hours and the final hour and a half were consumed with meal service, leaving us just a bit more than four hours for rest.


Where Are We Again?  We were fascinated to learn that the major directional signs at Amsterdam's Schipol Airport were all in English, not a problem for locals since about 90% of their population speak English as well as their native Dutch.   Copenhagen went for the more traditional local language with English translations below.

When a Gift is Not a Gift. Since the 1950s, KLM airlines has presented each of its first class passengers with a Delft Blue miniature of a traditional Dutch house.  Each depicts a real house in Holland and is filled with genever, a special Dutch gin.
When KLM decided to begin the practice, airlines were forbidden to provide gifts to passengers, as it was thought to promote unfair competition.  Since there was no law requiring drinks to be served in a glass, the company's executives decided to deliver the houses filled with gin and call it beverage service.

More Photos from Days 1 & 2
Back in line for an update on our upgrade request
Attractive Atlanta international terminal with lousy food choices.
Our terrible choice for dinner at Atlanta airport.  (Lack of a single Asian employee should have tipped us off.)
Yes, I'd love a glass of champagne.
A lie-flat seat?  Yes, please.
Favorite Dutch Word of the Day:  Videobewaking
Fabulous indoor forest at Copenhagen Crowne Plaza has 60 trees and 4,500 other plants.

NEW YORK, New York—When last I ventured off with the original yaya girls two years ago, we traveled to Orlando to replicate (with updates) a 2002 trip we had all taken to Disney World.  Whitney, the youngest of this group, graduated from high school this spring; Karoline and Rachel will graduate from college soon.  If there would be an opportunity for one more yaya trip with them, the time was now.  And we all agreed that New York should be the place, even their moms, who both accompanied us this time.

Friday, June 16

Rachel and her mother Kathy flew from Nashville into LaGuardia, while Karoline, Whitney, and their mom Karen met me in Atlanta and we all flew together into JFK.  Having not flown for a while, Karen and Whitney were a bit jittery before we boarded, but both are bold roller coaster veterans and soon recognized that flying was mild in comparison.

With a little help from Uber, we all connected at the Doubletree Suites on Times Square upon our arrival in New York.  Located at the corner of 7th Avenue and 47th Street, just across the street from the TKTS discount ticket booth, the hotel is convenient to the Theater District and other Midtown attractions.

Having traveled in the main cabin at mid-day, we had all missed lunch.  AdLib, the hotel's lobby bar, was the perfect spot for a late afternoon light meal while we waited for our suites to be prepared for check in.  When we asked for two connecting suites a few days before arrival, we were assigned to the 43rd floor, the hotel's top level.

Had I not been acquainted from previous stays with the hotel's bank of seven swift elevators, we might have hesitated to be that far up, but we never had to wait long for a vertical ride and never stopped at more than three other floors along the way.  Of course, the view from the 43rd floor in the heart of Manhattan didn't extend beyond the walls of the surrounding high rises, but the connecting door between our rooms was ultra convenient.
Once we settled our bags, we headed out the door to check out the action in Times Square.  By the time we left the room it was after 5:00, and the line at the TKTS booth across the street had dwindled enough for us to quickly score tickets for the evening performance of Chicago at the Ambassador Theatre on W. 49th Street.  Heading south through Times Square on our way to meet the wax celebrities in Madame Tussauds on 42nd Street, the yayas were taken by surprise when they encountered some of the city's underclad buskers.  Was it Kathy or Rachel that I heard singing?  ♫ "Start spreading the nudes..."♫

We had entered one of Times Square's Designated Activity Zones where costumed and not-so-costumed street entertainers are permitted to ply their trade. A motley cast of dress-up characters—from superheroes to Disney and Sesame Street icons to green Statues of Liberty—vied aggressively for the opportunity to pose for a photo with the thousands of tourists passing through Times Square.  Adding spice to the mix were a dozen or so semi-naked young women barely dressed in thong underwear, high heels, feather headdresses and patriotic-themed body paint.   Yes, yayas, you will receive a wide-ranging education in New York.
Also present in the area was an iconic New York busker who has been hustling in Times Square for almost 20 years.  Somehow in the dozens of previous times I've walked through the area during his tenure, my path had never crossed with that of the Ohio native who made a name (and earns $150,000 a year) as the Naked Cowboy.  On this day, my luck changed (not saying whether for better or worse).  No doubt the nude dude enjoyed wrangling a photo with the lovely yayas, even though they declined the offer to grab his tighty-whitey covered posterior in the second photo.  Guess they had been debriefed on the risks of that!
Besides there were more celebrities waiting to meet the yayas at the home of Madame Tussaud.  Having last visited one of the waxwork master's museums more than 20 years ago, I was quite surprised to learn that visitors are now permitted to interact with the wax figures.  As we expected, some characters looked more like their namesakes than others, but we happily joined in the photo op game, quickly realizing that putting the camera in the direction the figures were looking made for the most convincing poses.

Our seven-block walk to the theater for Chicago brought us there with more than half an hour to spare.  With our earlier small meals fading, we popped into Thalia, one of my favorite go-to spots in the area.  Situated on 8th Avenue less than two minutes from our theater, Thalia's spacious dining room with its soaring ceilings complemented by cozy corners offered the perfect spot for appetizers and beverages before the show.  As in other Theater District restaurants, our server was sensitive to our ticket time and delivered our food and drinks with haste.  Lingering to relax and enjoy the delicious snacks, we arrived at the theater just before the curtain rose.
Amra-Faye Wright as Velma Kelly and the cast of 'Chicago'  (photo by Jeremy Daniel)
Chicago's set was surprisingly simple for a Broadway production with the performers shoved to the stagefront as the orchestra, on tiered seating behind them, monopolized the lion's share of the stage.  Yet the power of the cast's performances carried the show in spite of their lack of space.  Even the choreography managed to inject energy into the dancers' modest square footage.
We were all smiles as we left the performance, walked a couple of blocks back to the hotel, and called our first day in the Big Apple a success.  Miles walked:  4.55

Saturday, June 17

With 10:00 tickets to the National September 11 Museum, we were determined to get an early-ish start on the day.  Figuring the subway would be the fastest way to traverse the five miles to the museum, we hit the 49th Street Station and accidentally caught the R train uptown.  Oops!  Failing to recognize an omen when we saw it, we got off at the next station and boarded the R downtown, only to find that weekend construction delays had undermined the Metro's efficiency.  After a sluggish ride with many long stops, we exited at Union Square and caught an Uber the rest of the way to the museum.
Though we arrived about a half hour after our scheduled time, we were admitted immediately to the museum following an airport-style security screening.  The yayas were only preschoolers at the time of the 9/11 attack, but they were just as profoundly touched by the memorial as their moms, who remembered that terrible day only too well.
After our visit, we crossed West Street to Brookfield Place for a bite of lunch at Hudson Eats, a large modern food court with a variety of eateries and seating with views of the Hudson River.  After we finished eating, we sat and watched the rain pouring in buckets, knowing we needed to walk next door to catch the Liberty Landing Ferry across the river.  With time to spare, the yayas decided to make a pit stop at a nearby restroom.  Somehow along the way, they were distracted by some enticing "shopportunities."  One store led to another in an underground passageway, and by the time we called to let them know the rain had dissipated and it was time to make our way to the ferry landing, they were several blocks away, entranced by the delights of the subterranean Oculus shopping mall.

A few calls later, we reconnected and splashed a half block over to the ferry landing.  Our first passage ended at New Jersey's Liberty State Park, where we would catch the Statue Cruises ferry to Liberty Island to visit the "lady."  Rather than riding from Manhattan's Battery Park, we opted to begin our journey from the New Jersey landing, where our time in the security screening line was only a tiny fraction of the typical Battery Park wait.
Rain continued to hound us as we transferred from one ferry to the other, but by the time we boarded the Liberty Island ferry, we were able to sit on the top deck and enjoy the view of the lower Manhattan skyline.  Another advantage of buying tickets from New Jersey was the easy opportunity to obtain tickets to the Statue of Liberty pedestal, which require a month or more advance purchase from New York.  After paying our respects to the Lady, we returned to New York on the ferry to Battery Park.
No yaya trip to New York would be complete without a visit to the tiny Bowling Green park to meet the "Fearless Girl."  Placed opposite the "Charging Bull" in March for a one-week installation to commemorate International Women's Day and encourage the hiring of more females in the world of finance, the young lass was so popular, her fans petitioned for her to remain for at least a year.  Her presence has not been without controversy, as the bull's sculptor, whose work has dominated the park since 1989, complained that his design was intended to symbolize a booming economy, not male gender dominance in the workplace.   Despite his objection, the young lady has attracted record numbers of visitors to Bowling Green, and the Charging Bull is basking in the renewed limeight.
A short walk down Wall Street gave us a peek at the outside of the New York Stock Exchange and Federal Hall, the nation's first capitol building.  Then we called on Uber again to return us to our hotel.  After a brief break, we set out on foot to Da Marino, a subterranean hideaway on 52nd Street that my friend Tina had introduced me to in April.
As luck would have it, we were seated at the same table where I sat with my shoe shopper friends a few weeks earlier.  And the food was just as good as I remembered—classic Italian dishes bursting with flavor.  Service was attentive, and the piano player's entertainment encouraged us to tarry.  Our unsuccessful efforts to find a drag show for the evening opened the door for a dessert visit to Playwright Tavern's rooftop, where we relaxed and let the bustle of the day fade away before returning to our hotel.  On the way back, Karen and the yayas decided to check out H & M's trendy merchandise in their Times Square store, while Kathy and I beelined it to the refuge of our suite.  In the end, we all enjoyed a well-deserved rest.  Miles walked:  8.34

Sunday, June 18

With only two full days in the city, we had another packed agenda on Sunday.  Shucking the subway after it failed us yesterday, we again called on Uber to convey us to our first stop, the world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Thinking ourselves New York savvy, we set the corner of 47th Street and 6th Avenue as our pickup point so we'd be on a northbound street and the driver wouldn't need to traverse Times Square.  What a surprise when we arrived at the designated spot to find that 6th Avenue was closed from 42nd Street to 54th Street for the Avenue of the Americas Expo street fair.  Like New York taxi drivers, however, all our Uber operators were intimately familiar with the city and its traffic foibles, enabling them to transfer us from point A to point B efficiently.
Before entering the museum, a photo op on the Met steps was essential in honor of their starring role on Gossip Girl, one of Rachel's favorite TV shows.  Our whirlwind tour of America's largest art museum—one of the most visited art museums in the world—was meant to whet the appetite of these yayas for a return trip some day.  With art and artifacts spanning more than 6,000 years of history sprawling across more than two million square feet of floor space, we could partake of just a small sample—an Egyptian temple, mummies dearest, medieval armor, early American portraits, Impressionists, and the outstanding collection of American sculpture.
The yayas and their moms humored me and engaged in the popular exercise of performance art in the sculpture courtyard.  Their acts were outstanding, but all too soon it was time for us to move on.  After a brief stop on the Met rooftop for a view of Central Park, we headed over a couple of blocks to check out the Upper East Side shop of an athletic wear purveyor favored by Karoline and Whitney.
 A little shopping later, we walked to nearby Caffe Grazie, a cozy brunch spot in a converted townhouse.  The food was delicious, and the service was friendly and accommodating.  After stretching out our relaxing respite, we called on Uber again for transport to Columbus Circle.  It was time for a Central Park carriage ride.
With carriage space limited to four, Kathy and I decided to forego the ride and stroll in Central Park while Karen and the yayas partook of this quintessential New York experience.  Though the carriage driver's performance did not earn high reviews from our riders, they nevertheless checked "Central Park carriage ride" off their bucket lists and we hit the pavement to explore the unabashed extravagance of Fifth Avenue's legion of luxury shops.
To fortify us for this foray, we paused at The Plaza Hotel for refreshments at its legendary Champagne Bar.  While there, Rachel realized that she had left her favorite sunglasses behind when we made a pit stop at the Essex House a couple of blocks back.  Karoline kindly accompanied her on a successful retrieval mission before we began our stroll down "the Avenue."
Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Gucci, Versace, Dolce and Gabana.  All the big names were vying for attention from these beautiful yayas, but the shop that caught their eyes was selling some of their favorite cosmetics.  Makeup artists in the store pleaded with the yayas to say they used M·A·C cosmetics exclusively, but they could not tell a lie.  They could, however, take advantage of a "buy 2, get 1 free" lipstick sale before we swept them away from those who longed to transform them into living advertisements.
Continuing down Fifth Avenue, we ogled Trump Tower, where the Trump family maintains their New York home, before arriving at St. Patrick's Cathedral, our next stop.  With strong maternal family ties to New York, Karen was eager to visit the landmark church where so many of her relatives had worshipped and light a candle to her mother's favorite saint.
A quick jaunt through Rockefeller Plaza and we were back in Uber's hands on our way downtown to Little Italy, a neighborhood which figured prominently in Karen's New York family history.  In fact, our destination was Angelo's of Mulberry Street, which has been serving up classic Italian cuisine since 1902, and was a favorite of her many aunts and uncles.
With more than 100 years to master their craft, Angelo's knows how to deliver a delectable meal.  Their copious servings of traditional Italian fare thoughtfully seasoned left the diners in our party sated and content.

As we departed Little Italy with the goal of catching the Empire State view while it transitioned from day to night, we were astonished when—out of the thousands of Uber drivers in New York—we were again greeted by Vakho, the same Republic of Georgia native who had driven us to the Met that morning.  He was just as surprised as we were and confirmed that we were his first random repeat fare.
Upon our arrival at the Empire State, we were dumbfounded to learn that thousands of other people had copied our idea of making a twilight visit.  In addition, it seems that Sunday night's visitor count was magnified by the complete fog and rain that blocked views the previous night.  Lines were long, and we were flagging, but the views made the waits worthwhile.

As we caught a 13-block ride back to the hotel after we f-i-n-a-l-l-y caught the elevator back to the ground floor, the dark cloud that had been looming over us for a good part of the day still lingered.  Just past 3 p.m., Delta Air Lines had texted a warning that our flights on Monday would likely be disrupted by a weather system due to move into the New York area about the same time as our scheduled departure.  Having spent almost ten hours at JFK in April waiting for a flight which was delayed three times before being cancelled, I was keen to take advantage of Delta's offer to rebook the flights.

All my traveling companions confirmed that they could stay an extra day, so while we blithely continued to sightsee, our hero Ken was in Atlanta, doggedly trying to change all our airline reservations to Tuesday.  Since Delta had sent the same warning to tens of thousands of passengers whose flights might be affected, communicating with the airline was no easy feat.  It wasn't until we returned to the hotel at 11 p.m. that the reservations were finally complete.  Incredibly, Ken had managed to book us on the identical flights for the following day.  Rachel and Kathy were even in the same seats as their original reservation.

After two jam-packed days of non-stop activity and knowing the next day promised stormy weather, we had no difficulty agreeing to sleep in on Monday morning as we stumbled groggily off to bed.  Miles walked:  6.54  

Monday, June 19

Stretching like contented cats after a luxuriously long sleep, we sauntered downstairs to Ginger's, the hotel's in-house restaurant, just in time to feast on their sumptuous buffet before breakfast service was suspended for the day.  In no hurry to depart, we maintained our leisurely pace, ultimately deciding to head off in different directions for the afternoon.

Karen, Karoline, Whitney and I—after a clunky series of subway missteps that landed us in Queens—returned to Manhattan and decided to check out Macy's flagship store.  Though the sign above the entrance still bills Macy's as the world's largest store, a Chinese store in Shanghai has since stripped away that title.  However, with more than two million square feet, Macy's Herald Square store on W. 34th Street offers plenty to explore.  An entire floor dedicated to handbags.  Another for shoes.  A total of 11 floors of merchandise and history.  Macy's has occupied this site for 116 years.

While we were out retailing, Kathy and Rachel set off uptown to the American Museum of Natural History, a site highly recommended by one of Rachel's friends.  While they enjoyed their scientific exploration, we returned to our hotel rooms, polished off the snacks we had accumulated and walked over to the neighborhood Food Emporium to replenish.

Along the way, we took advantage of Whitney's wisdom in hanging on to her ticket from Friday's performance of Chicago.  Since we were within seven days of that performance, her ticket served as our fast pass to the express line at the TKTS booth.  Instead of hundreds of people in line in front of us, there were only two.  We quickly scored six tickets for the evening performance of Miss Saigon.  

A strong rain storm as we left Food Emporium sent us into Thalia a few yards away to enjoy some refreshments while we watched the wind snatch umbrellas inside out on the sidewalk outside our window.  The rain eventually subsided enough for us to walk back to the hotel, depositing our purchases in the room just before Kathy and Rachel returned from their adventures.

On our usual tight schedule, we grabbed an Uber in the rain to haul us to 54th Street with barely enough time to eat before the 8:00 curtain for Miss Saigon.  When Three Monkeys couldn't seat us immediately, we went next door to Iguana New York, a Latin-style club and Mexican eatery.  Food and service were adequate, if uninspired, and we left just in time to splash a block south to the Broadway Theater and join the rain-soaked line to enter.  As we waited in the downpour, we all sent telepathic thanks to the umbrella street vendor who had conveniently set up shop outside our hotel entrance.
Helicopter takes off from 'Miss Saigon' stage.  (Photo from Playbill.com)
What Chicago failed to accomplish in terms of a sensational set Miss Saigon dealt out in spades.  This tale of love, betrayal and sacrifice set in the final days of the Vietnam War was told with the props and set worthy of a Broadway show. And it wasn't just the lavish sets and the spectacle of a helicopter on stage.  The show had melodic songs, silvery voices, a huge ensemble, a full-scale orchestra, extravagant production numbers, and a plethora of special effects.  There was even a tear-jerker ending.  And that undeniable feeling we had been to a genuine large-scale Broadway production.

It was the perfect way to end our adventures, and by the final curtain, the rain had abated enough to permit us to walk back to Times Square.  While Karen accompanied Whitney to H&M to return some merchandise, the rest of us followed the unfolding drama of what at first appeared to be a hacking of one of Kathy's online accounts.  Rachel soon solved the mystery, and in the end we all had a good laugh over her clever ruse to raise a response from the rascal behind the confusion.

With our bags mostly packed and ready for the next day, we set our alarms for an early wake-up and gave in to the sandman's enticement.  Miles walked:  5.12


Tuesday, June 20

Our frantic pace had overtaken us by the time our alarms startled us awake on Tuesday and we trudged downstairs with our bags to Ginger's breakfast smorgasbord.  Morning coffee chased away the drowsiness enough for us to bid each other farewell and Uber off to our respective airports—Kathy and Rachel to LaGuardia for their return to Nashville and the rest of us to JFK for our flight to Atlanta.  Six would be a good guess of the number in our group who fell asleep on the plane.

As usual, New York, New York—the city so grand they named it twice—did not disappoint.  We laughed a lot, learned a good deal, walked many miles, and reconnected with each other in ways we rarely have the opportunity to enjoy.  And when we each returned to our own beds, we recovered.

More Yaya Big Apple Photos
At the Atlanta airport, ready for take-off 
No, we're not twins! 
Rachel reflects on the rain.
Karoline and Whitney waiting for the ferry
If there was an available outlet within 100 yards, Whitney was able to sense its presence.
Knock-off sunglasses from a street vendor in Battery Park?  A little too shady!
Familiarwith the NYSE from business classes, Karoline grabbed a photo op with her sis.
Adding to the beautiful view on the Met's rooftop garden 
Three yaya princesses in their carriage
Mother-daughter smiles at the Plaza Hotel
Different reactions to the "buy 2, get 1 free" offer at MAC 
Karen lights a candle to St. Anthony.
Empire State's nighttime view
Karoline and Whitney eye the view at Empire State.