did you ever have a crazy 21 year old dream?

My daughter, Libby, is graduating from Bowdoin College with a coordinate major in Environmental Studies and Sociology. She has a passion for maps, geography and urban planning and she likes a challenge. It is her dream to bike across the US this summer. As her parents, we are so proud of her and scared out of our gourds (trucks, cliffs, bad brakes). But as a former hobos and enthusiastic world travelers we have to put all that aside and support her fantastic adventure.

She has found a wonderful group, Bike the US for MS. She is taking the North tier from Bar Harbor, across New England through the Midwest to Montana and Seattle. She is an experienced treker and has done the NYC to Montreal, Albany to Cape Cod and Pittsburgh to DC trails. Bike the US for MS organizes cross country bike trips that raise awareness for multiple sclerosis, research & volunteer for patients. Many cyclists come to this program for the ride but become passionately involved with the cause. To participate she needs to raise $1 per mile - that is $4295 before the early spring25% of this amount goes to the cost of the trip (support van and trailer, gas for these vehicles, campsite fees, minor bike repairs, team gear, etc.) and public awareness of the program, 50% goes directly to MS research, 15% goes to service projects for MS patients that they will be involved in on the trip, and the final 10% goes for administrative costs.

Since we are in the midst of final (double) college payments and the fundraising is as much of a challenge as the continental divide, we are hoping to assist in her crowd sourcing.

If you can support this amazing cause and dream
Donations (which can be anonymous) can be made online here (please make sure to donate in Libby Szuflita's name)

Libby's Page

Old blogs about the other trips:
Our trip on the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O

Teen Treks

great allegheny passage and c & o canal bike trek

GAP trestle.jpg

If I was going to design the perfect 340 mile bike trek, it would be two completely flat, car free, shaded stretches, separated by a 20 mile downhill coast through beautiful farmland, with charming trail towns conveniently placed for lodging, food and homemade ice cream. When I was told that there were no up hills, I just didn't believe it, but it was not misrepresented and I did not disgrace my family. This is two combined trails; the GAP (Great Allegheny Passage - a Rail to Trail) and the C & O Canal Tow Path. The direction you take makes a difference - definitely go from Pittsburg to DC and not the other way round (and don't just do half starting at Cumberland like many people do, because you just miss the best stretch of road!) We did it all in 10 days (approx. 34 miles a day). We were two families (4 parents and 3 high school grads). We stayed in hotels, hostels and B & B's for the first 5 nights and then alternated camping in the free sights provided with hotels for the second week. These paths do go over the eastern continental divide but the grade is so low on the way up that it is truly not noticeable (believe me, I would be complaining if I had noticed). Our friends first did this trip with their son when he was 8 years old, but I think that it is the perfect trip for 12 years and up (you need some endurance). There were a lot of father/son duos and college roommates (both young and old) on the trail. The trail on the Pennsylvania GAP portion was very well maintained cinders. The C&O varied wildly in maintenance from newly packed clay to stone chips and muddy ruts, but aside from sore bums we had no injuries. You don't feel the heat on a bike because there is always a breeze.

Here is a brief list from the trip:

  • 3 high former train trestles (the photo is taken from the first one - there are railings)
  • 3 lonnnng dark tunnels (super fun and very disorienting)
  • 75 antique C & O canal locks
  • 1 continental divide
  • 1 twenty mile coast downhill (worth mentioning twice)
  • 4 rivers (Ohio, Youghiogeny, Casselman, Potomac)
  • 1 beautiful 6 mile detour that did have some hills (not part of the official trail)
  • 1 almost disastrous hotel reservation in Harpers Ferry (on a 4 lane highway)
  • 1 round of drinks at the bar, courtesy of the hotel in Harpers Ferry
  • 4 soaks in a river (Youghiogeny - cold and Potomac - warm)
  • 1 Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece (Falling Water)
  • 3 nights camping
  • 1 raccoon, 6 fauns, 5 woodchucks, 7 turtles, 2 herons, 1 buzzard, 3 bright green caterpillars, countless songbirds and butterflies
  • 1 spider museum (women's bathroom)
  • many, many trains
  • 0 cars (except in the first 13 miles leaving Pittsburg)
  • 2 very brief rain storms (just enough to cool us off)
  • 5 blown tire tubes, 2 repaired luggage racks, 1 cracked axel, 1 cracked rim
  • 2 panniers bounced off mid ride
  • 1 lost bathing suit by the side of the trail
  • 3 Ruben sandwiches, 5 crab cakes, many Caesar salads and a coconut cream pie
  • 2 root beer floats
  • 1 one match campfire
  • 7 happy campers

If you are interested in other interesting trails that we haven't yet tried. check these out.

that's right! i am traveling 334.5 miles on a bike this summer with all my camping gear

So what does a middle aged, soon to be empty nester do on her summer vacation? She ships her bike to Pittsburgh and travels under her own steam with the camaraderie and encouragement of her super fit family and their adventurous childhood friends to Washington DC. It is called the Great Allegheny Passage and connects to the C&O Canal tow path - motorized vehicle free! (I guess that means no ambulances or Enterprise Rent-a-Car pick ups)

We will do 10 days of biking (I have been assured that it is flat, flat, flat, but I grew up in the shadow of the Skyline Drive so I am skeptical) with stop overs to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water and see the grandparents in northern VA. What will you see when you book a consult with me in August? Tanned, toned and ready for the Albany to Montreal trek or beaten limp noodle? Kind of exciting isn't it?! We will be camping a bit and staying in the little towns along the way a bit. I will be out of the office from July 16 to July 31. I am not sure that I will be able to update on our progress along the way, but I will eventually give you a full report.

twinsburg, ohio

Why drive 8 hours one way to the suburbs of Cleveland? - for the largest gathering of twins in the world. This trip has been my girls' dream for years and this summer they finally got us to agree by saying that they would use it as a topic for their college essays. They know how to deal with us. We figured it would be a silly goof of a weekend. I believe that they will probably attend every year from now on if they can.

On one side it is a small town fair; hot dogs, a couple of rides, a bouncy castle, a parade with antique fire trucks and a talent show. On the other, it is over 2000 sets of twins, triplets and quads of all ages, races, shapes and sizes, gathering for 3 days of unqualified understanding, comraderie and silly fun. I have rarely seen my kids as happy. In normal life, even in twin filled Brooklyn, they are oddities. "Who is older?" and "who is the evil twin?" are the first two questions that they are always asked. They occasionally enjoy the attention but it can also be a burden. During Twins Days they are the normal ones (we singletons are the misfits). Everyone gets it. Everyone has a bond that has no age, race or philosophical differences. It is a beautiful thing.

Side note: they will want you to know that they are not in any of these pictures although they did dress alike and had their picture taken by a National Geographic photographer (watch for the twins edition in Nov. 2011)

road trip

I have logged a lot of hours on the road with my family (masking tape down the center of the back seat). This is the summer of college tours so we will be doing even more. I choose to drive because then I don't have to be the one turning around to constantly monitor the food and fun in the backseat. Now that the girls have their music for the road, things have gotten a lot quieter back there, but there are some family traditions that they still enjoy participating in. I do believe that my family's love of brain teasers has been instrumental in their success on the SHSAT (it isn't why we did it, but they have years of experience with logic puzzles). The best test prep is an active mind.
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Teen Treks

My teens are all over the map this summer.
They got back from a great Teen Treks bike trip across Mass. from Albany to Provincetown on the Cape. This is the second trip for one of them and it didn't disappoint. The rain and the Berkshires didn't deter them (although now when we are sitting in a car and they see a slight incline they exclaim "oh no, a hill!") It was a fantastic small group this year and they did everything from Tanglewood to Great Adventure, lots of beaches and two days in Boston. I highly recommend this trip for giving them a real sense of accomplishment and adventure.

We hardly had time to scrape the bike grease off before we headed to the family reunion in Chicago. Chicago is a great town for kids with amazing free summer concerts and programs all over the city (and a great bike path along the lake and its own beaches). It is a little early, but we decided to tour Northwestern as long as we were in the neighborhood. There is plenty to love there and I highly recommend their tour which was "awesome!" We had a very excited tour guide who also happened to be extremely knowledgeable (good job Northwestern, my kids are now looking further west than they were a week ago).

I have to give a shout out to Daniel, junior at Stuy, who I happen to know, follows this blog religiously. He is doing a summer debate program at Northwestern that sounds interesting. It seems that I have a few fans at Stuy, Hi J.! which keeps me from writing anything really interesting about my kids.

Teen Treks #5

She's back from Montreal. It was great. She wants to do it again. The rain coat was shredded but other than that everything came home, including the large unread book. She talked a mile a minute about every detail until she hit the couch and instantly fell asleep. She woke up long enough to whisper "pizza" and "pedicure" and then back into dreamland.

We are happy to have our darling girl home again. She can't wait to see her sister. It always amazes us that they have so much to talk to each other about even when they are with each other every minute. So up to Rhode Island this weekend to retrieve the mildewy sleeping bag and soggy twin A.

Check out www.hipslopemama.blogspot.com for my guest blog in support of summer boredom.

Teen Treks #4

Twin B was sighted in Burlington Vt. (by a pre-approved, non-stalkerish friend of the family). She is tan, happy and ready to kick our lazy, non bike riding butts when she returns home in 5 days.

No word from Twin B (known as the "good phone contact twin") unlike her sister, "the good house key remembering twin". Together they make one perfect child. The first year at camp all we received were envelops full of stationary that all said, "Sendmunchies.com" Needless to say, we were more than a little put off by the lack of substantive news and declined to order the $40. brownies online. So far there is no word from Rhode Island. Silence is golden and so are the candid photos from bunk1.com

Teen Treks #3

Got the call. Got the rain. But it wasn't as bad as I had imagined. It was a scheduled call, and even though hearing our voices made my daughter emotional, she did squeak out that it was fun before we lost the connection. The postcards are a different story. Because of the snail mail time lag, they were written in the first couple exhausting days, when their tent was flooded out. "...low blood sugar sucks..." I have been on google maps looking at terrain and I am quite jealous of the beautiful scenery they will be traveling through. We are quite proud of her. She said that after the first day she was going to call us to pick her up, but she pushed through it.

We just dropped off "twin A" at sleep away camp and all we had to contend with were memories of "Shark Week" and how to smuggle the rice crispy treats past the counselors.

Teen Treks #2

Day 2, no rain, no call.
After checking the itinerary and studying my online maps I realize that while we visit my uncle on July 4th, we will be 10 miles from my daughter's campground. I cook up several schemes including leaving mystery cookies at the Ranger's Station. My husband suggests that we just drive by and wave, but don't stop. My other daughter wisely convinces us that this is all too "stalkerish".
Disaster averted, dignity maintained, just barely managing to be a good parent.

Teen Treks

Yesterday we loaded up my daughter's panniers and bungeed up her bike until it looked like the Beverly Hillbillies' truck and sent her on a 400 mile bike trek with 9 other high school students and two adorably peppy adults to Montreal. In March, when I booked this trip, it seemed like an exciting adventure. Right now it seems like my first baby steps toward letting go. This whole parenting thing is not for the faint of heart.

This trip was the product of my internet search, but my daughters have always craved an outward bound type challenge. They love the pure idea of "Survivor". The problem with the show is that it is too much jumping over tiki torches and eating spiders in return for Mountain Dew and not enough foraging for roots and berries. So right this minute my baby has ridden 27 miles on a bike that weighs more than she does and is foraging for berries in Nyack. No rain today. No support van. I imagine over-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner being thrown out along 9W. I imagine her returning bronzed and hairy, with legs like that cyclist in the "Triplets of Bellville", mouthing off in youth hostel Canadian French and preferring foreign bagels. That's if we don't get a call. What have I done!?

My husband said, "Can't you stop worrying and enjoy her trip?". I said, "Are you nuts! This trip is not for MY enjoyment! It is my penance for hovering and meddling and too many organized activities. This trip is so she can develop her executive function and get a Canadian boyfriend" (not really, she has a wonderful boyfriend to whom she will remain ever true) That is when I successfully transfered my parental dread and he woke up sweating at 4am. Mission accomplished.

Her sister is continuing on at their old faithful sleep away camp. The inmates running the asylum, I call it. She will be just as happily filthy and foul mouthed and full of contraband junk food when she returns home. So far, the beginning to a successful summer. They did a week of hard duty babysitting and found some some giant yellowed paperbacks that are sure to make them weep on the couch for a week. Those were the days.

Keep me in your thoughts and pray for no rain.
For Teen Treks:
716 566-7908

Where We Camp

We do at least one camping trip a year. We have had a lot of different experiences with campgrounds. Private campgrounds can be in beautiful locations, but some are pretty loose about alcohol and noise restrictions and that can make a beautiful spot horrible. We have gone the 5 star private campground route with relatives who like electric and water hook ups and all of the amenities. These are very well run and manicured with pools and lots of activities for kids, but you pay through the nose for a controlled experience. So far, for us the National and State campgrounds are the best combination of amenities, scenery and relative quiet.
We have been to Dingman’s and we have heard great things about North South Lake. Both of them are within an easy weekend drive of the city. We gravitate to the Delaware Water Gap for an easy weekend camp. If you are north of the Gap by Port Jervis eat at the Eagle’s Nest Restaurant (reasonable, American, family dining) for the most spectacular views of the river. 58 Eagle’s Nest Road Bloomington, NY 845 733-4561 April-Dec. W, TH, SUN 5:30-9
Lake George
This campsite had a pool, river campsites, a DJ and bonfires in the evening, tubing on the river, arts and crafts, go carts, and you pay for it, but the experienced RV campers that work at the store knew all of the most beautiful hidden hikes around Lake George. Even with all of the “designed for family fun” activities, the day that we spent at the secluded waterfall and picnicking on the rocks by the lake was the day the kids remember. We spent a day in town at the scary wax museum, water park and para sailing, and one day in Saratoga Springs walking around all of the different springs and checking out the race track. It was a fantastic trip, but there may be a more economical option close by. You just need to find a local that will fill you in on the secluded hikes around the east side of the lake.
Bar Harbor
This was another fancy campground for the in-laws but it was in a good location, had a heated pool. It was located on a bay where we were able to collect pounds of mussels for our dinner at night. These private campgrounds have lots and lots of RVs so you are not exactly out in the wilderness. I am sure that you could find a more secluded spot, but it is nice to be on Mount Desert Island if you are making the park your destination. If you can plan ahead and make a reservation at the National Park, that is always the way to go.
Lancaster County
I won’t list the expensive campground we found here. It was a lovely week, but we found that with all of the activities and beautiful Amish farmland we couldn't get the nature fix we needed. It is all private farmland and though beautiful, we didn’t feel welcome to wander at will.

My next post will be about planning and packing.

Planning Great Trips

We start with the budget. The year we went to Costa Rica, we were really planning on going to California. I was just playing around on Orbitz. The plane fare to Costa Rica was cheaper. This year we were supposed to visit friends in Germany. The Euro was going to kill us. I got a tip on the soccer field. We decided on Ireland instead. We still had the Euro, but it was a much cheaper trip because it was all nature which is free. I forgot to mention our trip to Colonial Williamsburg in Feb. a couple of years ago. We go everywhere off season. We were at Mesa Verde the day after it opened for the season. Sometimes we don't see everything that you would see during the summer, but we are always the only people there and that makes it GREAT!

I have the money saved before we go. I found that a dedicated ingdirect account that I add to every month keeps the money safe from being used for other things. I love to see my spring break travel money in that account in Feb. when I am buying the tickets. This way we come home with the photos and no debt to play catch up with. It enables us to say "let's charter the boat out to seal island" without worrying about the extra hundred dollars.

I trade notes with my like-minded friends. All of my best ideas are versions of trips I borrowed from them. We visit friends when we can and some day soon we will probably start trading apt. overseas.

I also look for locations where the dollar is going to go the farthest. That isn't many places these days, but it sometimes leads us places we wouldn't normally go, including the Erie Canal.

My kids don't like museums. Even though they say they want to go to Paris, I know that they would be awful there; tired and grumpy. They will really want to go someday, but not just because it is where their friends went. When I plan, I have to be very realistic about my family's needs. My husband is unhappy if he doesn't feel he's getting a deal and he really doesn't care about the food (give him a jar of peanut butter and he is good to go in any country). He also doesn't like the same experience twice. My kids like nature and adventure travel and they have a pathological fear of being seen as tourists. We try and focus on being travelers rather than tourists for their delicate sensibilities. I am all about the food and the weirder and more original the experience the better. We ate crickets in Oaxaca. I can't remember where the car is parked, but I remember what was on the sandwich I ate when I was 10 years old driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains. To compromise we shop at local markets. I love them and I love to haggle, and my husband thinks we are getting a bargain. We like quirky experiences. The Neon Museum in Vegas and the Erie Canal going over a road were two highlights. We limit the electronics. I prefer to get lodging without TV. We have been reading aloud to each other from "All Creatures Great and Small" since Costa Rica. We laugh and do voices and read the same passages over and over because we always lose our place and fall asleep too soon. When I am older and grayer they will be the fondest memories of my life. I am not an ogre and my kids are not perfect. I will occasionally splurge on a fancy hotel (usually some great promotional deal online) and we will have the beautiful lobby, pool and huge TV. Not having it all the time really makes it a bigger deal.

I hope that I am teaching my children about the value of a dollar as I teach them about the value of the experience. They know we make a conscious effort to save to get something that we really love. They also know that we are saving for many other things as well; college, retirement, causes we believe need our support and a rainy day. It is no fun missing pizza night, but would you rather have Chinese food in Brooklyn or China?
Let me know where we should go next.

We take great trips

6 years ago when my children were 8, I made a decision for my family. Our family vacation time was exclusively about visiting relatives. As a child, my parents had taken us to amazing places; camping in the sand on St. John, houseboating the Border Lakes in Minnesota, biking and exploring and generally getting off the beaten track. I wanted similar memories with my children.

We looked at our stretched finances. We had a lot of vacation time, but not an unlimited budget. We decided as a family to take action. We do not order out, and we very rarely eat out. Now we have a vacation budget that allows us to take several great trips a year.

Here are some of the things that we have done:
Car trip to Nova Scotia - this was our first trip and the car broke down so many times that when we finally made it to Maine, the girls kissed the ground. We had the most wonderful time. It is when I knew that we would always be able to travel together. Every one of us was determined to make it a hilarious comedy of errors.
Family Reunion in the villa in Oaxaca - don't eat the famous cheese (it is unpasturized) but like my mother said, "the gauzy curtains are blowing, the volcano in the background, the fusia and birds of paradise are blooming, you wander out to the terra cotta patio, throw up and go back to your shaded hammock. In spite of the intestinal distress we loved all of the crafts, the beautiful colonial town, and had a blast in Mexico City in the very fancy business hotel that cost us barely anything.
Costa Rica, Nagoya Peninsula, Cloud Forest, Arenal - this is the trip by which all others are measured. Full moon horseback riding on the beach, going from the tidal pool for the morning swim to the waterfall pool for the afternoon swim, zip line in the cloud forest and the Smithsonian lodge with a cloudless Arenal volcano steadily spitting boulders.
Camping in Bar Harbor, Maine - one word, "lobster!" (Trenton Lobster Pot) we also gathered huge buckets of mussels at low tide and did the great day hikes all over the park. We love the Beehive!
Car trip in Arizona, Utah and Colorado (don't forget Vegas) - we came for the national parks, but despite ourselves, we loved Vegas. We were the casino's worst nightmare, (half price girls at the all you can eat buffet who can eat twice their weight in sushi and prime rib) and we hit every free show from the dancing waters outside the Belaggio to Pirates and back. Don't miss the Neon Sign Graveyard. And then there was Route 66 and hiking every canyon. We gave ourselves a challenge to have a person from every continent take our picture. Mission accomplished.
Eco camping on St. John, VI - Maho Bay, it was like a dream
Camping at Lake George and Saratoga Springs - our best camping trip ever, a little history, a lot of gorgeous hiking to waterfalls, putt putt golf, grossing ourselves out drinking at the healing springs, a day at the races
Visiting friends in Rio, and Buenos Aires - we were a little afraid of this one because of the violence in Rio, but living in a residential neighborhood (Ipenema, at that) and trips to Busios and Paratyi made it a dream come true. Watching our new favorite soccer team, Botafogo win in overtime was unbelievable. A little grownup side trip to Buenos Aires for my husband's 50 birthday was perfect. "Surprise honey, I'm buying you a steak for your birthday, get back on the plane!"
Barge down the Erie Canal - slow down to 6 miles an hour and you won't believe how beautiful western NY state is from the canal. Lift bridges and locks, beautiful birds and gin and tonics under the canopy of the European canal boat that sleeps 6. My parents joined us to help with the driving. The kids road their bikes along the tow path, gave directions to the lock masters on the radio and read while lounging on the top of the barge.
Staying in a Lighthouse in Co. Clare, Ireland - We just got back from Ireland two weeks ago. We did a "self catering holiday" in an Irish Landmark Trust property. We stayed in the Loop Head Lighthouse keepers cottage (it has a real working light) on the edge of a cliff at the end of the road, literally. Beautiful drives every day, guiness and music in the pubs and back home to a peat fire.

I want more ideas. Let me know what you have done. We are going to Northern California for my 50th next spring.
Watch this blog for tips on planning.

Tween Town

This is what I like to do with out of town tween girls in NYC. Here is the secret to being a great tour guide. Keep them fed at frequent intervals. Don't walk them like a regular New Yorkers; they will turn zombie on you. Jump in a cab FAST when you see it coming on. Keep the destinations varied; educational, silly, glamorous. It is hard not to make a tween trip all about the shopping, but if you sprinkle a little interesting and inexpensive shopping in between the museums, they may stay alert.
Upper East Side: If you are doing a museum (and you are taking your life in your hands to do two in a day) head further east and take a ride on the Roosevelt Island tram. Pack a deli sandwich to eat on Roosevelt Island, take a breath and look at Manhattan, stop in at Serendipity if there is no line (ha!) for a frozen hot chocolate, and top it off with a little shopping at Dylan's Candy Bar. Even though I am tired of it, Dylan's may just be the highlight of their trip.

Midtown: You could stop in at the Toys R Us to wait in line for the Ferris Wheel, but we like to ride the elevators in the Marriott Marquis for free (did I mention that they are glass elevators?). Get an "outside" elevator, one sort of in the center, ride all the way to the top floor and try for an uninterrupted trip to the ground floor. Repeat until you stop squealing. Then head across the street to the Edison Hotel restaurant for matzah ball soup, blintzes and egg creams. We also like to use the bathrooms at the Paramount or whatever fancy new boutique hotel has just been renovated. Undoubtedly, they have a Sephora at the mall at home, but you want to be glamorous when you go to Broadway. We go for makeovers before the show and put on the most fabulously outrageous peacock colored eyeshadow imaginable. It doesn't fly back home, but heh, you are having a madcap Manhattan weekend. The best lunch or dinner spot ever is the Burger Bar in the Parker Meridian in midtown. You go into this sleek, grand lobby, look for the small neon burger sign and enter another world; cardboard signs, grease stained paper bags of french fries and the occasional celebrity. The burgers aren't only great, they are the best bargain in town. You can't miss.

High tea is fun for tweens. Although I like to wear a big flowered hat, they usually don't allow it. It is great to stop for a fancy version at the Palace or some other institution, and contrast it with Tea and Sympathy in the village. There are some pretty good walking tours in the village as well. It is interesting for them to see a real speakeasy at Chumley's (even if it is only from the outside), the skinniest house, see the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire (which they study about in school) and the bodies buried under Washington Square Park when it was considered way out of town. You have to go to The Forbes Museum on lower 5th Ave. It is free and it is the perfect tween collection of Faberge' Eggs and Toys, beautifully displayed (I think that it closes at around 4 so don't leave it to the end of the day).

I like Sundays downtown. Dim sum at some huge Chinatown dumpling palace will blow their minds. Shopping at Pearl River, and a scoop of red bean or green tea at the Ice Cream Factory is always a hit. Then a tour at the Tenement Museum and a pickle on the lower east side. As long as you are downtown, walk across The Bridge and have some cheese cake at Juniors. Sit at the counter for the most colorful waiters.

I don't like waiting in line for things; it wastes time and drains energy. For me the Staten Island Ferry is a great view of the Statue of Liberty. The Empire State Building is open until midnight, so if you go early evening your wait isn't horrible (if you go at 11pm, it is even quieter, but there are lots of people kissing)

The best tour for out of town relatives that I ever heard was mentioned on WNYC. You get each visitor to write a country name on a slip of paper. You proceed to eat at a restaurant from each of those countries during their stay. You wake your guests at midnight, hop in a car and drive to Time Square to demonstrate that this is in fact, the city that never sleeps.