Part 1: NYC
Monday, December 20. It will be certainly hilarious to remember years later that one of the better parts of our vacation-from-hell was the part I always dread the most, the flight. We had business-class seats on the top level of a 747. Tons of legroom - you could recline the seats virtually flat - personal TVs, and actually good-tasting vegan food. We transferred in Chicago to a smaller plane where we had first-class seats, but the business-class ones from the first leg were actually better. Still had good food though.
Our pleasant travels ended abruptly upon landing. We made it to LaGuardia at about 10:30 p.m., but our luggage didn't. The airline said they'd get it to our hotel by around 2 a.m.; we figured we'd still be awake then, being on West Coast time and all. boyziggy phoned for our prepaid SuperShuttle, and we were told it would arrive in a few minutes. Fifteen minutes later he phoned again. On about the fourth phone call, 45 minutes later, when we were ready to cancel and take a cab, the driver showed up. He made no apology, played loud rap music, and did not turn on the heat in the 15 degree weather. He also tried to drop us off at a hotel a good 1/2 mile from our own (we were staying at The Solita Soho); luckily Ziggy noticed and pointed out that we were on the wrong street. When we finally got to our place he had no record that we had prepaid for the ride. Ziggy showed him the receipt, gave him a very small tip and we left.
We told the front desk to expect our luggage and headed up to our 12th floor room (this will become significant later). The room was very small but modern, with free high-speed Internet, a great double-headed shower, and a flat screen TV. We stayed up until nearly 3 a.m. waiting for our luggage, phoned the airline and heard that it would arrive "between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.". We called it a night.
Tuesday, December 21. Got up around 9; no luggage. Ziggy fetched some breakfast from across the street (authentic New York bagels) and we waited till 11:30 a.m., then we had to leave to meet his mother at Penn Station. We pressed the elevator call button and got no response. Ziggy picked up the phone next to the elevator to alert the front desk, and got no response. We tried the phone in our room and they still didn't pick up. Befuddled, we walked down the twelve flights of steps to find the lobby under an inch of water, which the staff was frantically mopping up. One looked up at us with a panicked expression and shouted "Please go back to your rooms!" We noticed the fire truck outside. Apparently a sprinkler had frozen. We said that we needed to go out, and waded through the lobby and out the front door. Welcome to NYC.
My first New York subway experience was actually not so bad. I was expecting it to be horribly crowded all the time, but the car on this late-morning, weekday "M"-line ride was nearly empty. We made the short trip to Penn Station and I snapped a couple photos of Madison Square Garden. We were somewhat late arriving as Ziggy had not figured out the most efficient subway routes yet, but Amtrak was late too so his Mom didn't have to wait long for us. We discussed what to do, and Ziggy suggested going to Times Square. Only after we had been walking for awhile did his Mom point out how far away we were from it. (Maybe not in warmer weather, but it was hovering around freezing.) We ended up at Macy's, which only later did I discover was the largest store in the country, if not the world. Being there during the last days of the Christmas shopping season was less than fun, but Mom wanted to buy some kind of face cream that she couldn't get in Vermont.
Afterwards we had some tea (thank goodness many NYC places have soymilk) and then headed to the Empire State Building. The wait to go to the top was very long (no surprise), so we skipped it and went to lunch at a vegetarian pizza place I had located on our "Happy Cow" vegetarian restaurant guide. The pizza was excellent, both the cheeseless varieties Ziggy and I enjoyed and the cheesy one Mom (who is on the Atkins Diet; a bit of a challenge to fit in with our mostly-vegan dining habits) choose.
We headed back to the hotel for a rest, and found that 1) the lobby had been cleaned up, 2) our luggage had arrived, and 3) the elevator was still out. Lacking any options, we struggled up the twelve floors with our suitcases, then passed out for a couple of hours. Between the inconveniences and lack of pre-trip planning, we hadn't really figured out what to do in the evenings. We ended up dining at another vegetarian restaurant just a block from the hotel, which was tasty though lacking in decor and amenities (shouldn't there be a law that places that serve food should have a public restroom?). Then though we might have rather seen a Broadway or off-Broadway show had we planned for it, we ended up heading to Times Square to watch a movie.
Times Square was even more dazzling than I expected. I stood in awe of all the video screens. The movie theater was in the basement of Virgin Records. The theater was very uncrowded and had no cell phone reception (yay), and the movie, Ray, was excellent, though the sound quality was rather horrible. We emerged from the theater, Ziggy's Mom did a little shopping in Virgin, and then we took lots of photos outside. I was amazed at the number of people out and about even after midnight on a weekday, and the fact that I could get a peppermint hot cocoa at Starbuck$ at that hour. Times Square would end up being one of the few highlights of our trip, at least from my perspective.
Wednesday, December 22. We walked through Chinatown and the East Village and brunched at another great vegetarian restaurant found through the Happy Cow guide, Teany, co-owned by vegan musician Moby. The tea was so good that I got their card so I might mail-order some later. We then did a rather boring geocache, then headed back to Penn Station to drop off Ziggy's Mom. I had meanwhile gotten my period, so the cramps were a delightful companion to me in the crowded, bustling station. We took the subway, which was now more crowded, to Central Park, emerging near the Museum of Natural History, and had a very nice walk. I took many photos, including a couple in Shakespeare Garden, since we got married in Golden Gate Park's version. I would definitely like to spend more time in the parks the next time we visit. We had some yummy street-vendor honey mixed nuts, then headed back to the hotel for a rest, and found the elevator was out again. The staff offered to move us to a lower floor, but we just hiked up, not wanting the bother, and crashed for awhile again.
Later that evening, Ziggy realized that we were very close to a restaurant he had enjoyed on a previous trip, simply called "Rice". It was not all vegetarian, but had a wide variety of delicious rice dishes as the name suggested. We had a great meal, then walked to a club, the Luna Lounge, that he wanted to revisit, as had discovered the group stellastarr there when they were first starting out a few years ago. This evening's band, Pink Meat, did not seem destined for greatness, or even for a second appearance. Thank goodness for earplugs. I couldn't help thinking that I could do better, and was happy that I had just that day been accepted into the Intermediate Rock and Blues Band at Blue Bear (taught by Bill Spooner from The Tubes), which starts January 13. We then headed back to Teany for more tea and scrumptious vegan cakes, then headed back to our hotel (enjoying the Christmas lights of Little Italy along the way), took a short cheesy video that I'll post later, and called it a night.
Thursday, December 23. We breakfasted on more New York bagels, then took a walk to Greenwich Village. We did an easy geocache in Washington Square Park, another very pleasant spot and another park we have of the same name near our SF apartment. (I found it amusing that the hotel Ziggy chose was between Little Italy and Chinatown, as we live between North Beach and Chinatown in SF.) We found a natural foods market and bought a huge amount of food for our train trip to DC. We took the subway back to the hotel and checked out, and had a nice cab ride (a thousand times better than the SuperShuttle) back to Penn Station.
The station was insanely, insanely crowded. I felt like I was going to pass out once we finally made it down to our train (which was over 30 minutes late). Though our seats were reserved, we barely managed to find two seats together at almost the very back of the last car. Coincidentally, the man sitting behind us (with his two young kids) ended up being a classmate of Ziggy's from George Mason University. The three-hour trip went relatively smoothly, and we arrived at Union Station in DC around 6 p.m. I was tired and wanted to go to our destination immediately, but Ziggy wanted to spend some time there as he missed it.
We soon took the Metro to Falls Church, VA and were met at the station by Ziggy's father, who drove us the short distance to his house in Arlington. We chatted and snacked, then borrowed his car and drove to Ziggy's sister, Signy (who designed our wedding invitations and timeline), in Ashburn, VA. The family was out but we got in with the gate combination and they arrived shortly thereafter. I met our four-month-old nephew, Lee, for the first time, and also their young and overly friendly Golden Retriever, Cleo. Signy and her husband Dean also have an older and more mellow Retriever, Tucker.