Monday, 27 February 2012

Back to Manhattan - Day Five - Wednesday 8 February

"Wow, it's Wednesday already?", was my first thought as I woke up after our second night in our lovely room at the Affinia Manhattan. "Coffee... now!", was the second.

Suitably caffeinated, I once again admired the view from our window and tuned into NY1 to see what was up in New York City that day. The Yorkshireman soon joined me, bleary-eyed but eager to go exploring once again. We knew this day would be a busy one, especially since we once again had time-bound plans, but we knew it would be an interesting one.

We headed over to Penn Station once again and caught the 1 train down to Rector Street. Since the southern tip of Manhattan was the first area of the island to be settled (called New Amsterdam at the time), there is no grid system for the streets there. It's more like the other major cities I've visited. Being honest I prefer the grid system for getting around but there is a certain charm in all the different street names instead.

Stepping out of the subway, we used one of the big tourist information maps posted around the financial district to get our bearings and then set off to see the Charging Bull.

We found him pretty quickly. He was all fenced off and we weren't sure whether this was due to the NY Giants' homecoming parade the day before (there was still confetti everywhere and some city workers were doing their best to clean it all up with leaf blowers) or because too many tourists were wearing down his, erm, "boy parts", by rubbing them too often. We've since learned that apparently he was actually fenced off last year during the Occupy Wall Street protests. The more you know. Regardless, we were content to take a few photos of him instead!

Charging Bull New York

After that we just wandered around the area, taking in the famous sights, including the New York Stock Exchange, Trinity Church, the American International Building (the tallest building in lower Manhattan; we thought it looked like a smaller, stubbier Empire State Building) and Federal Hall. I hadn't known George Washington had actually been sworn in as president on Wall Street back in 1789, so that was interesting.

New York Stock Exchange

Trinity Church New York

American International Building - 70 Pine Street New York

Federal Hall Wall Street New York

We did however notice that his statue outside Federal Hall, from certain angles, made him look a bit camp (I hope its not some kind of treason to suggest that). There are actually rumours about his preferences and I think it would be fabulous if he had actually been gay. That'd show the Republicans!

Statue of George Washington outside Federal Hall Wall Street New York

We also stumbled upon a TJ Maxx on Wall Street. I always enjoy bargain-hunting in the UK version, TK Maxx (I wonder why they changed the name..?), and have gotten some amazing stuff there before (my record thus far is a pair of pink boots originally marked as £199, reduced to £2 - I think it might have been an error on their part but I wasn't about to question it; pity they were at least one size too big for me!). So in we went.

Twenty minutes later we emerged with a huge bag of stuff. I'd found a lovely box that looked like an ornate book to house a rather academic friend's birthday gift, a pair of great jeans and a black Tommy Hilfiger sweater for my granddad, a fleece jacket for me since the Sloat (sleeping-bag-coat) was turning out to be quite bulky and a bit too warm to wear all the time, and, the pièce de résistance, a beautiful black leather Fossil bag.

I love Fossil handbags and often stare longingly into the shop in Victoria Square in Belfast as I walk past, but there is no way I could justify the cost of one here. Even the original price of the one in TJ Maxx was lower than any of the ones in the Fossil shop in Belfast, and then it was reduced again by over half! I still couldn't really afford it by myself but the Yorkshireman stepped in and offered to pay for it. My Independent Woman morals ("The shoes on my feet, I've bought it", etc) wouldn't allow me to let him just buy it for me, but we eventually settled on paying half each (he is rather awesome, as husband types go). I transferred all my stuff over to it less than two hours later and haven't been without it since. I luff it.

Frivolous purchases aside, it was then time to make our way to our first, rather more serious appointment of the day, as we had reserved tickets to see the 9/11 Memorial. On our last trip, in November 2010, we had visited St Paul's Chapel and the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site, which we found very moving. We had also stepped out into the graveyard at St Paul's and looked across the road at the big gaping space, where it was difficult to imagine the huge towers had once stood, especially since we had never seen them in real life. This time it was a different experience.

Admission to the 9/11 Memorial is free, but generally you have to reserve timed tickets on their website ahead of your visit. There is then an airport-like security process to go through on the way in, but it was very efficient. In no time at all we had entered the site and spent some time looking at the memorial fountains, the famous "Survivor Tree", etc. It was very peaceful and it was also very poignant seeing all those thousands of names along the sides of the fountains, some seemingly family members right beside each other.

Hence I also found the people grinning and taking happy happy holiday snaps of each other in front of the fountains a bit distasteful (all that seemed missing was a big thumbs up), but the less said about that the better. We took some photos, but tasteful ones of the memorial and its environs with no people in them.

I think the plans for this area are really well thought-out though. The victims of the horrible tragedy are remembered in a beautiful, moving and public way, but yet the ever-determined spirit of New Yorkers is also evident in the ever-increasing height of the new One World Trade Center amongst other buildings right next to the memorial. It just seems to me to be the right mix between acknowledging the past and moving towards the future. I'd really recommend a visit there if you have the opportunity.

9/11 Memorial Fountain - Names

One World Trade Center building progress

The only bad thing about the 9/11 Memorial was the lack of public restrooms; I know it's a superficial problem given the gravity of the purpose of your visit, but the fact remains that when you've gotta go, you've gotta go. Given the signs put up by local retailers that "restrooms are not available to the public", it seems to be a common problem for visitors to the site.

In the end we went to McDonalds on Broadway and also used the opportunity to load up on some caffine and free WiFi, whilst listening to a talented gentleman gently manipulating the keys of a grand piano raised on a mezzanine above the doorway. It was the most relaxing visit to McDonalds I've ever had!

Rather than a Big Mac we had decided to go a little more upmarket for our lunch that day, as we'd made another Restaurant Week booking. First though we had to make a quick photo stop.

When we'd been coming up with our "bucket lists" for our trip, one of the few things that the Yorkshireman really really wanted to do was go and see the "Ghostbusters Firehouse". Having only seen the movie once when I was quite young and having been underwhelmed by it, I didn't even know the significance of the place, but the Yorkshireman explained it to me as I took photos of him looking suspicious outside Hook and Ladder 8 on the corner of Varick Street and North Moore Street. Bless.

Hook and Ladder 8 New York City - Ghostbusters Firehouse

Then it was off to lunch, this time at Nobu New York on the corner of Hudson Street and Franklin Street. Nobu, for those who don't know, is one of the restaurants owned by Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, a celebrity chef who has even had a few bit part roles in films such as Austin Powers Goldmember and Memoirs of a Geisha. I'd actually heard more about the food than the man and was eager to sample his wares. However, after our first (disappointing) Restaurant Week experience a couple of days before, the Yorkshireman was wary about our lunch plans.

Nobu New York sign

I have to say, Nobu was entirely different and entirely wonderful. We had made the effort to dress up a little that day (Open Table had suggested "smart casual" as the dress code) but given our sightseeing plans for the day we had been unwilling to do without our comfy, casual, now somewhat abused footwear to accompany our business-appropriate attire, so between that and the Sloat I'd been worried we might have been given some condescending looks. However we needn't have worried. They welcomed us without a second glance and led us to our table straight away.

The food was absolutely delicious. I had sashimi to start and the textures and combination of flavours were perfect. For my main I had Teriyaki beef, which was again perfectly cooked. Unlike Frankie and Johnnie's, they also provided a side dish of rice, even with the Yorkshireman's fish and chips "Nobu style", which didn't seem to require it. For the life of me I can't recall specifically what the dessert was, but I remember it was light and delicately flavoured.

The service was also just right, with attention when you wanted it and space to enjoy your meal and have a conversation when you didn't. For three courses it had only been $24.07 each, which is less than the price of one entrée on their regular menu. We left over a 20% tip and deemed it worth every penny and more.

Suitably fed and watered, we made our way to South Street Seaport to visit the TKTS booth there. One our last trip we paid two visits to TKTS at Times Square and waited in line for half an hour one time and an hour the next. This time we'd thought about buying online on a site like Broadway Box, but there always seemed to be a booking fee of about $11 per ticket and when you took that into consideration, TKTS seemed cheaper. Plus we've since learned that the lines at the TKTS booths at South Street Seaport and Brooklyn were shorter, so we figured we'd give those a try instead.

At South Street Seaport we walked in, checked the boards to see that tickets for our chosen show were definitely on sale and then walked straight up to the man behind the window. There were four other people looking at the boards and deliberating but no line at all. It was great! We procured two tickets for Newsical the Musical that evening for $40.25 each within about 3 minutes. Job done!

After that we were kind of tired and decided to go back to our hotel room for a little rest before our evening activities began. We watched a bit of TV and I read my book whilst the Yorkshireman wrote in his journal and then we watched New York once again go from daylight to dusk out our window. However before it got truly dark, it was time to leave again.

Our first stop of the day wasn't very far away - in fact it was across the road. We had intended to visit Macy's again at some point on our trip, but we'd seen their one day sale advertised over the previous day or two and figured it was worth a look.

We started in menswear, which was good because one of the main purposes of our going there was to look for a jumper for the Yorkshireman to replace one that had been covered in someone's spilled Coke at the ice hockey game we'd gone to at Verizon Center in Washington. He found one he liked soon enough, which had been reduced substantially and we moved on. Shortly afterwards I found a couple of gifts for my dad's upcoming birthday and the Yorkshireman found a pair of Calvin Klein socks he liked. I also found a Converse t-shirt that both my brother and sister would have liked and opted for sister dearest, since I'd already bought not-so-baby brother a Hollister hoodie.

Then it all started to go wrong. It turned out that, as well as the one day sale pulling in the crowds, one of the Super Bowl winning NY Giants was in the store to sign merchandise. Of course we happened to be in the sportswear department at the time it all went mad. We escaped as fast as possible and then had a quick look at the other floors, starting at the top via elevator and working our way back down via the famous wooden escalators.

The Yorkshireman hates shopping, particularly in busy department stores, and he was getting tenser by the minute beside me. I decided to have one quick look in the women's accessories department for a birthday gift for our aforementioned academic friend and then head to a cash register to get him out of there as soon as possible. Having decided on a lovely blue, green and gold scarf and a multi-coloured, chunky beaded bracelet for our friend, we attempted to find somewhere to pay.

We eventually found a register and I paid for my bargains, reducing the prices even further with another 10% discount by showing the cashier our hotel room key (some deal the Affinia Manhattan has with Macy's I guess!). The total would originally have been $165.06 and I got it all for $66.66, which is a saving of $98.40! I saved more than I spent! That's my kind of shopping!

Unfortunately the Yorkshireman's purchasing did not go quite so smoothly: a tag was missing from his jumper and the cashier said she couldn't sell it without a tag since it wasn't from her department. So off we went back to menswear... except, where was it? For the life of us we could. not. find our way back to where we had come in. Eventually, after wearily wandering up and down between floors 1 and 2, we came across a kind of tunnel and went through it. Finally: success! In our defence it is supposed to be the world's largest store!

We located another jumper that actually had a tag and went to wait on line to pay. We had to wait for about 15 more minutes and the Yorkshireman was getting grumpier by the second, but eventually he got to pay, he got his discounts (which cheered him up a little) and we exited the shop, hot and bothered, into the cold, crisp air. Ah, that was better! There was even some drifting snow around, which was soothing to our overheated and overtired bodies.

Newsical was due to start at 8pm but we had plenty of time to go for dinner yet. Time for another supposed "best in New York", this time burgers. Every time I read about burgers in New York, someone, without fail, mentions Shake Shack. They also have custard-based desserts, which appealed to our sweet teeth and so we put it on the list.

Man that was one busy fast food joint! We ordered our food, got one of those pager things that lets you know when it's ready, and tried to look for a table. My order was ready before a table became available but eventually, through luck and persistence, I spotted a group leaving over by the window and swooped in (as much as one can "swoop" with a crutch and sore feet).

The Yorkshireman joined me soon afterwards, as did a guy and a young boy who shared our table. We determined that it was a big brother (probably twenty-something) taking his eager and inquisitive little brother out for a burger and shake. I had to conceal my smile as big brother explained to little brother how much money it costs to take a lady out on a date in the city. "Lots" was the general consensus.

I must say I did enjoy my burger at Shake Shack. It was juicy and still pink in the middle, which suited me. However I later had a better burger elsewhere so I don't think I could agree it was the "best" in the city. The fries and shake were good too, but it was very much fast food, not fine dining. You get what you pay for.

Not wanting to take up a table unnecessarily when it had been so hard to find one ourselves, we left and made our way to the Kirk Theatre, which is actually part of a group of theatres under the one roof called Theatre Row. It reminded us of New World Stages, where we had seen Avenue Q on our last trip. We grabbed a beer in their bar (happy that they had Brooklyn Brown Ale), used the restrooms and then made our way into the theatre.

It was a small theatre but the intimate surroundings suited the show well. I'd read that Newsical was like the Daily Show set to music, which appealed to us greatly, being that we love both the Daily Show and musicals. And it didn't disappoint.

Obviously some of the numbers were better than others but the show was up-to-date and entertaining, whilst the cast were talented and able impersonators, which really added to the show. Since we've been following the Republican G.O.P. race (mainly in disbelief that anyone would legitimately want to vote for any of the candidates on offer), my favourite song was one about the Republican Carousel. I went around saying, "I'm Mitt Romney and I'm still here!" every so often for the next couple of days.

The show was relatively short (although enjoyable throughout) and soon we were back on the street. We had intended to go to Junior's for cheesecake after the show but we were still full from dinner (the Yorkshireman in particular, as he had eaten about three quarters of a pint of frozen chocolate custard) so we decided to postpone those plans.

However while we were in the area, we decided to head over to the Hershey's store. Normally we would avoid the shops in Times Square like the plague, but sister dearest had requested that we bring her back some confectionery called a Take 5 bar, which was apparently made by Hersey's and which we had been entirely unsuccessful in tracking down thus far, no matter which department store, pharmacy or bodega we'd looked in (or even which city!).

On the way we passed the EarthCam at Times Square and gave anyone who was watching a little wave. I love it when I'm watching it and passersby know it's there and acknowledge the camera, but it rarely happens (it's usually just busy New Yorkers with takeout cups of coffee striding past and lost-looking tourists looking at maps).

When we arrived at the Hershey's store it was already closed. Doh! We peered into the windows to see if we could spot Take 5 bars from there, but alas we could not. We gave it up as a bad job and headed back to the hotel, where we watched the Daily Show and Colbert Report in our big comfy bed and fell fast asleep. The next day promised to be a little more relaxed (just as well since my feet were about to fall off) but just as interesting.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Back to Manhattan - Day Four - Tuesday 7 February

Our first morning in New York City began bright and early and I decided to accompany my morning coffee (hotel rooms should always have coffee makers in them by the way) with a little local TV. NY1 became our regular wake-up during our time in New York. It's both entertaining and informative. For example that morning it advised us that there was to be a homecoming parade for the New York Giants, what with them being Super Bowl champions and all. The Yorkshireman's plans for the day were still pretty, shall we say, "fluid" at that point, so he earmarked it as a possible activity.

I, on the other hand, had my day planned down to the last bus gate number and subway stop. I'm semi-accepting of a half-assed itinerary when I know the Yorkshireman will be there, firstly because I'm not stranded alone, and secondly because of the aforementioned internal GPS he seems to have. However when I know I'm going to be left to my own devices, I take off my glasses and become Super Neurotically Organised Woman! Not sure how to get from Penn Station to Wall Street? Fear not, my friend, for Super Neurotically Organised Woman has a subway map in her handbag! Not sure how much that admission cost will be? No worries, Super Neurotically Organised Woman is strong in the art of Google-Fu!

Super Neurotically Organised itinerary in hand, I bid adieu to the Yorkshireman outside our hotel, but not before he requested that I take some photos of my day's adventures. Given that I only have a rubbish phone camera and a hand so unsteady my pictures look like I've taken them from a vibrating plate, I was not confident about my ability to relate my day through the medium of photography. However I acquiesced (I will share the rubbishness with you throughout this post, you lucky things!) and headed off down into Penn Station…

… which was absolute bedlam! It was a veritable sea of NY Giants fans, all dressed in their team's colours and heading down to the parade. I had anticipated no problems at all buying my 7 day unlimited Metrocard, but I had not anticipated the mile-long lines to all of the machines!

A very helpful Metropolitan Transport Authority employee was trying to tell people that one of the machines was only accepting cards and the other had no change, so they could buy Metrocards at the Long Island Railroad windows instead. If more people had paid attention to him we might all have gotten out of there a lot quicker but as it was I stood and watched at least three groups ahead of me get to the machine and then look bewildered by the fact that they had to get a card with $20 minimum on it.

Eventually I made it to a machine, paid for my 7 day Metrocard with my FairFX card and was done within about 30 seconds. See, it's not that hard - even a dumb tourist can do it! All I had to do now was join the huge crowd of people now trying to get down to the subway platforms and try to squish on to a train.

In the end it wasn't so bad (I think people pushed me a bit less because of the crutch, which was a courtesy you'd be unlikely to receive on a Belfast bus let me tell ya!) and before I knew it I was outside Port Authority Bus Terminal. Before I set about actually getting a bus, I had a quick pit stop to make just around the corner.

You may recall last time I was in New York, I fell in love with the cupcakes. And that my quest for the world's best cupcake has taken me to several stores in New York, several stores in London and even one in Cardiff, not to mention my own city of Belfast (which is sadly disappointing on the cupcake front). This time, having read loads of articles and forum threads about "the best cupcakes in New York", I decided further research was required in person and set about making a list. Many of the cupcakes I wanted to sample were sadly just not going to work with our itinerary but I did manage to fit a few into the trip.

The first cupcake on my hit list was from Cupcake Café. What a strange little place. When I hear "cupcakes" I automatically think pink and fluffy and homely, but this little coffee shop was almost depressing inside. I also could not immediately see any sign of cupcakes until I looked right at the back of the shop where, amidst the gloom, was a display case housing a rainbow of the most delicately decorated little cupcakes. I kinda liked it - it was like finding hidden treasure.

"You want cupcakes?", a gruff-voiced man asked me. Clearly I just look like the type. "Yes please", I squeaked. We went to the back of the shop and I purchased a vanilla one (my baseline flavour for comparison purposes). Gruff guy gently placed the delicate little cake into a box and deftly tied it with string. He then thanked me for "coming to the ends of the earth" in a dry tone. He seemed surprised when I said it was because they had a good reputation.

Cupcake purchased, I headed across the road and into Port Authority. Thanks to our little trip out to Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken on our last trip, I already had some experience of this huge bus station and indeed with NJ Transit buses. And thanks also to my Super Neurotically Organised itinerary, I knew that I wanted the 111 bus, which would depart from Gate 222 and that I could buy my return ticket from a NJ Transit machine for a mere $13. Easy peasy, or as we would say in Belfast (perhaps more aptly given my purchase only a few moments before), "wee buns!". And then it was off to my first destination of the day: Jersey Gardens Mall.

Firstly: a defence. Yes, I know, there are a million and one stores in New York. That there are in fact lots of discount stores in New York. That the branded products you buy in these outlet malls are often of a lesser quality than in the actual brand's main stores. However, I'm not into brand names, especially the ridonculously priced ones. Why would I want to spend $200 on a pair of jeans (even if they were originally $500) when I can buy a pair for $30 that are just as good? For me, the thrill of shopping is in spending next to no money on something I will actually be able to wear and machine wash time and time again and not panic when I inevitably spill coffee or drop mayo on it. No, mes amis, I did not go to the outlet mall place for cheap designer goods, I went for bargains!

And so, first, I went through the seven levels of the Candy Cane Forest, then I went past the sea of twirly, swirly gumdrops and after that, I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel. ('Lil quote from Elf there for those who think I've gone nuts(er)). Actually though I took the bus through the Lincoln Tunnel instead. Then we passed Newark Liberty International Airport; you get very close to the planes on the New Jersey Turnpike, which I liked (every time I see a plane land or take off I shout "plaaaaaannnnneeeeeee!!!", much to my family's simultaneous amusement and shame every time, especially when we go to the Ikea café in Belfast, which overlooks the runway of the airport next door).

Newark Liberty International Airport from the New Jersey Turnpike

I also ate my Cupcake Café cupcake on the bus. It was… interesting. First off, it was kind of small, more the size of what we would call an iced fairy cake here, than a proper, cover-your-nose-in-frosting-when-you-bite-into-it sized cupcake. It was however beautifully decorated. The frosting was completely smooth except for a little frosting rose on the top. The cake was more like a pound cake than the lighter muffiny texture I like. The frosting just kinda tasted like cream to me; sweet cream, certainly, but cream nonetheless. Sadly I am not really a fan of cream, so it doesn't really rate amongst my favourite cupcakes ever. However I can see why they are some people's favourite - if you find most cupcakes too sugary but still enjoy a sweet treat occasionally, these are probably perfect for you.

And then suddenly there we were, at Jersey Gardens. It wasn't even 10am when I arrived and the place was kind of empty. I decided a good place to start was breakfast. I had actually been intending to go to IHOP for breakfast, purely for the novelty value since we don't have them in the UK, but it turns out the IHOP is actually not in the mall itself, but rather a trek through the huge car park and across two roads. With such a busy day ahead of me and my poorly hip, I decided to Starbucks it instead and enjoyed my multigrain bagel with cream cheese and white chocolate mocha whilst perusing the store directory leaflet.

I picked up some great bargains in the end actually. For myself I got a great rust-coloured top for $7, a lovely black and grey chunky knit jumper for $19.99, a chunky, stretchy belt for $8 and a pair of gorgeous flared jeans for $16.19, which were actually a size too big but which I have since been able to shrink with that old wash-them-on-a-boil-wash-to-make-them-a-size-smaller trick. I also bought my teenage brother a bright green Hollister hoodie for the remarkable price of $13.93 - the one he got for his birthday last year here in Belfast was like £40, so it was about a quarter of the price!

By the time I'd finished looking around all the stores I was interested in and had convinced my inner-shopaholic that I had neither enough money to buy much else, nor room in our luggage, my feet and hip were aching. After a Chillata from Cinnabon, which I hoped would give me a simultaneous sugar rush and caffeine high to get me through the rest of the afternoon, I headed back to the bus stop with my purchases, where a 115 heading back to Port Authority was already waiting for me - joy!

Distant Manhattan Skyline from the New Jersey Turnpike

Back in Manhattan, I set off towards my next destination: Union Square. I walked over to Times Square (*shudder* we took agin' this horrendously tourist-filled area on our last trip) and jumped on the subway.

Times Square sucks New York

I only realised when I jumped off it again on 14th Street that I'd automatically gotten on the 1 instead of the N/Q/R, which meant I was over on 7th Avenue instead of Broadway and now had to hobble the extra three avenue blocks with my crutch and sore feet. Doh! I put my error down to learned behaviour, since our hotel on our last trip was close to the 1 line, so I was used to getting on at Times Square and heading straight for the 1. Alternatively I just wasn't paying attention, especially since my Super Neurotically Organised itinerary specifically told me I had to get the N/Q/R. That's what I get for ignoring my own forethinkage!

I eventually made it to Union Square and had a bit of a poke around a few shops there, like DSW and Nordstrom Rack. However those stores were more on the $400 reduced to $150 side of things, than in my league of $80 reduced to $5. There were some really pretty and interesting things though.

Eventually, without any further bargain finds and with my feet now pulsating with hurtiness, I limped my way across to Starbucks (yes, I have an addiction, I know), this time for one of my old favourites from my last trip that we don't get in the UK, namely a caramel apple spice. Yum! I also bought one of those mini vanilla bean scone things but it was just meh, like all Starbucks food (with the exception of the yummy Thanksgiving pumpkin muffin I had last time). I took my snack over to Union Square Park and sat on a bench to rest my feet and enjoy it.

Union Square Park was... odd. The park itself was pretty but it seemed to be full of strange people (I include myself in this statement). There were at least two complete crazies wandering around talking to (or rather at) people. At least only one was asking for money. The other just seemed to be in the mood for a snarking match with whoever would take him on. Whilst he settled his cross-marks on the rather heavy man sitting next to me, I snuck away, as inconspicuously as possible for a shuffling, overweight, auburn-haired Irishwoman, dressed in a black sleeping-bag-coat, clicking a crutch along on one side and carrying multiple shopping bags on the other.

Independence Flagstaff (Charles F. Murphy Memorial Flagpole) Union Square Park New York

Union Square Park New York

When I left the park I came across two guys dressed as a red dog and a blue cat, just chilling out and having a chat on the corner opposite. I'm hoping they had some connection with the Petco store behind them or else that's just plain weird.

Petco Red Dog and Blue Cat Union Square New York

Next I had a look around a few more shops, including Fishs Eddy, which I loved and wanted to buy everything, but was not confident in my ability to get them home intact, not to mention afford it in the first place. I do actually need some big pasta bowls but I'm afraid they'll more likely be £3 ones from Ikea than $20 ones from Fishs Eddy, no matter how cute the New York skyline ones were (*sad face*).

By then my feet really were begging for mercy and my stomach was demanding to be fed something more substantial than three bites of mediocre scone, so I made my way to my next stop, Grimaldi's on 6th Avenue. My choice of eatery came from yet more of those "best in New York" discussions, this time for pizza. I know most of the places on these lists are tourist hotspots and that, really, pizza is pizza - it's pretty much all good (unless you're the Yorkshireman who oddly does not like pizza - weirdo!) - but since New York prides itself on its version of the stuff, I figured I'd give a "famous" one a try. John's, Lombardi's and Grimaldi's seemed to be mentioned most frequently and since Grimaldi's was right near my current shop-fest area, my choice was made for me.

Grimaldi's is actually inside an old church building, which was kind of weird but kind of cool. I was seated at a red and white checked table in the narrow space between the door and the main part of the restaurant and ordered a small regular pizza with pepperoni and a cream soda. My meal duly arrived with great ceremony and I took my first bite.

Grimaldi's Pepperoni Pizza and Cream Soda New York

It was… good. Not OMG where have you been all my life fantastic, but tasty nonetheless. I liked the fresh basil especially, although there was a little too much cheese for my personal tastes; I'm a saucy kinda girl at heart! I've definitely had better pizza before but if you were in the area and looking for somewhere to grab some 'za (no, I can't get away with that at all, can I?), I would by all means recommend it.

I managed 4 of the 6 slices in my "small" (ha!) pizza and asked if I could have the rest to go. The rich smell followed me around for the rest of the afternoon, which was no bad thing really.

After lunch, I had a look in a few more stores in the area. I contemplated buying a cute art print in Papyrus for a friend and then didn't, and I found the New York Rangers' third jersey that I knew the Yorkshireman was hoping to buy in Sports Authority and made a note to tell him about it.

New York Rangers Third Jersey 2011/12

On my last stop of the day, Modell's, I finally tracked down some red Converse for not-so-baby brother under my mother's strict budget of "under $40" (the Converse store at Jersey Gardens had been a complete bust) and then limped, broken, back to the subway.

Tired shopping on the subway with the crutch

Subway train, New York

Back in our lovely hotel room I broke out another beer, unwrapped my Grimaldi's leftovers and settled down on the sofa to enjoy my book and the amazing views from the window at the same time. After about half an hour, the Yorkshireman arrived, equally exhausted from his own day of adventure and eager to tell me what he had been up to. We swapped stories and photos for a while (his were better than mine on both counts, but I still won on the bargain shopping stakes dammit!) and then decided it was time to go watch the NY Rangers game.

Sadly we didn't have tickets to go to this game in person but we figured a sports bar would be a good alternative. We'd spotted a bar across the road from our hotel called the Flying Puck, which sounded like an ice-hockey friendly bar if ever there was one. It actually turned out to be a New York Rangers bar and being only one block away from Madison Square Garden was perfectly situated for its theme. We actually really liked this bar and ended up going back twice more during our trip, once even when we were no longer staying across the road, we enjoyed it so much.

That night the NY Rangers were robbed of what should have been their victory against the New Jersey Devils. The Devils were leading 1-0 right up until a few seconds before the end, when the NY Rangers scored! We were going to overtime where we would surely score again and win the day!Everyone celebrated in the bar and on the TV... it was joyous! Then someone noticed that the referee had determined it was not a proper goal! Say whaaattt? They ruled that there had been interference with the goalie but from what I saw none of it was intentional and it was, in my humble opinion, a bad call.

So of course the Devils won, leaving the bar full of people shaking their heads and fists at the TVs. A very vocal and colourful girl appeared beside us who had clearly been at the game and announced to the bartender that she was angry. We shared her sentiments and decided to at least cheer her up a little by bequeathing our seats to her and her friend in the increasingly crowded bar.

Then we left, slightly buzzed from all the beer (including a free one thanks to the nice guy behind the bar), still irate and now also a little hungry, so we went in search of dinner. We remembered the lovely Chinese food we'd had from Gingers on our last trip and so made our way north. I was delighted that I had even remembered the cross-streets from last time (my brain works in mysterious ways) and it was still there, exactly the same as we remembered it. We ordered our food and took it back to our lovely hotel room.

We ate (very nice once again) whilst watching late night TV (The Daily Show and Colbert Report again the shining stars amongst the other poor to mediocre comedy shows on) and then retired to bed. Another day gone already and another action-packed day ahead of us tomorrow!

EDIT: I forgot to mention, that at face-off of the Rangers/Devils game, this happened... it was was awesome:

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Back to Manhattan - Day Three, Part Two - Monday 6 February

The train from Washington DC to New York was actually pretty great. I've heard Americans complain about Amtrak a lot but clearly they haven't had to deal with the conditions on NI Railways or National Rail! The seats were big and comfortable, there was plenty of room for baggage, the toilets were clean and the café car wasn't outrageously expensive. I don't know what else you can expect from a train really! The journey was interesting too, as we passed through places we'd heard of but never visited, like Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia and Trenton.

Three hours and fifteen minutes after we boarded in DC, the train pulled into New York Penn Station and, as silly as it sounds, it felt like coming home. We'd stayed close to Penn Station on our last trip to New York, so we knew exactly what to expect when we finally found our way out of the maze that is Penn Station. And you know what? It was exactly the same as I remembered, from the Carbon Counter outside Madison Square Garden, to the Sabrett hot dog carts on the street corners, to the intruding glare of the bright lights of Times Square, just a short walk or one subway stop away.

It was actually a relief to be there. In Washington DC, I'd been bobbing along in a sea of unfamiliarity, relying on maps and getting frustrated at every turn, whereas when we stepped off the escalator at Penn Station, I knew exactly where I was and knew how to get around on the subway or on foot from place to place. I felt like I was back in efficient civilisation, no offence to DC.

Happily when we emerged from Penn Station we also knew that our hotel was just across the road. I'd read about the Affinia Manhattan's recent renovation and when I saw the photos of their new one bedroom suites, I quite fancied the idea of staying in one of those little apartment-style rooms.

For a while we were intending to stay more uptown at On The Avenue but recent reviews had reported the furnishings and décor being a bit worn and dated and I'm unashamedly an advocate of Barney Stinson's rule that "new is always better", so when the price for the one bed suite at the Affinia Manhattan dropped to below our On The Avenue booking, we cancelled the latter and snapped up the former.

It turned out to be a great decision - our room was again fabulous! A little smaller than the Helix had been but with a fully functioning kitchenette and an absolutely awesome view of lower Manhattan from the window behind the sofa. The only downsides were that the bathroom was a little small and that it took us a while to figure out how to work the air conditioning (you have to physically plug in the separate wall units apparently). Again pictures speak louder than words, so here are a few photos:

Affinia Manhattan collage

20 view affinia day

After we settled in and squeaked with joy (ok maybe that was just me) at our amazing room, we decided to venture out in search of supplies to fill our fridge. We knew K-Mart was just across the road and so off we went... except it wasn't quite that straightforward. There was a queue of screaming teeangers right around the block and even though we could get in to the floor at ground level, there was seemingly no way down the escalators because of the hordes of people everywhere. Eventually we gave up and walked back to Penn Station, where we recalled there was another entrance to the lower floor, i.e. where the beer lives.

After getting lost in Penn Station again (to become another common theme of our trip), we eventually found it and procured ourselves some beer and snacks. We remained ignorant of what the big queue upstairs was in aid of until we returned home, at which point Google kindly informed us that some boy band called Mindless Behaviour were apparently there. They look like eight year olds to me but if nothing else it reminded us that there really always is something going on in New York!

Back across the road we stocked our little kitchenette and then changed for dinner. It was Restaurant Week in New York and we'd made reservations for Frankie and Johnny's Steakhouse on West 37th Street.

It wasn't the best meal experience to be honest. Our table was upstairs, which was pretty inconvenient for me on my crutch, although our waiter at least did pull the table out so I could get in to the booth a bit easier.

I quite liked our lobster cake starter but the Yorkshireman wasn't that impressed. The main course (or entrée as our American friends would have it) was a bit silly though - with the Restaurant Week menu, it literally was a case of what you see is what you get, i.e. if you order the salmon, you literally get a small piece of salmon in the middle of the plate. You get no sides unless you order them separately, which to me defeats the purpose of have a prix fixe menu in the first place - I mean, who just eats protein for their main meal without at least a vegetable or potato with it? No-one, that's who.

My steak (what little there was of it) was nicely cooked but the Yorkshireman found his salmon only so-so. Our fries (which cost an extra $8 for the one portion we shared) were ok too but again nothing special. For dessert the Yorkshireman was underwhelmed with his chocolatey dessert (so underwhelmed we forget what it was) and my key lime pie was good but not great.

My tiny steak really was the high point of the meal and we left thinking that, when you took into consideration the extra side dish, the wine, tax and tip, the $130 check was a bit of a rip-off for what started as a $35 prix fixe menu. It was the most expensive meal of our entire trip and probably actually one of the worst. Plus, our waiter kept stalking us. There's a difference between attention to detail and staring at you while you're eating. We won't return and I wouldn't recommend it - if you're willing to pay a fortune for a good meal, there are probably a thousand better places in New York.

Dinner finished, we wearily stumbled back to our hotel and settled in with a beer each and some snacks (since we were still hungry after our modestly portioned dinner) to watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which are two of our favourite shows; it was especially a treat to watch them in the same city they're recorded and at the time they're normally broadcast rather than the next day online, as we poor UKers must now do after their deal with More 4 went south.

Suitably amused and caught up with current affairs, we took one last look at the mesmerising views from our windows. The city was now in darkness, but all lit up, including the Empire State Building, which peeked out at us from one of our side windows (dressed all in blue in honour of the New York Giants' Super Bowl victory the night before).

21 view affinia night

21 view affinia night esb

Some of the people in the office building across from us had only just gone home for the night but for us it was definitely time for bed. The next day would be interesting, as we each decided to go our separate ways and explore New York for ourselves...

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Welcome to DC - Day Three, Part 1 - Monday 6 February

A brief interlude from my self-indulgent reliving of my recent travels just to acknowledge that this is apparently my 100th post on this blog. When I consider how many posts I've written on forums and Facebook and the like, 100 doesn't seem like all that many, but I never knew I had 100 unique thoughts in my head, let alone any I could discuss at length, so, I guess, go me, or something... Happy century, little blog!

We now return to our feature presentation...

We woke up on Monday morning to a bright and crisp morning in Washington DC. We finished packing up our belongings into our suitcases once again (it hardly seemed like any time at all since we'd originally packed them in Belfast) and decided to go for a walk to enjoy the beautiful morning before we checked out.

We grabbed some more free tea and coffee from the hotel bar and set off outside with our takeout cups. The Yorkshireman's internal GPS told him that our hotel actually wasn't that far from the White House and, having stared at Google Maps for long enough myself, I concurred. We made our way along to 16th Street and, hey, whaddya know, there it was at the end of the street. It was about a mile's walk in all from the hotel to the railings surrounding it but it was a pleasant enough walk, even passing the National Geographic Society's building on the way (Mecca for a geek like the Yorkshireman - he even took a photo bless him).

I was surprised by how few tourists there were outside (the White House, not the National Geographic Society) but then maybe 9.30am on a Monday morning isn't peak sightseeing time. We took a few photos and admired the fountain and columns (you're really into your classical architecture, aren't you DC?).

17 white house

Next we took a look at Concepcion Picciotto's anti-nuclear protest, conspicuously sitting right between the White House and General Andrew Jackson's statue in Lafayette Park. Concepcion herself was not present at the time, but her tent was attended by a bearded friend. I'd remembered seeing the protest in Fahrenheit 9/11 and our trolley tour driver had told us about her again the night before, so it was interesting to see it in person. I haven't really looked into what the protest specifically stands for (other than its anti-nuclear sentiments) but regardless of whether you agree with her or not, you've got to admire her staying power - she's been there since 1981!

18 protest

As we left the White House we crossed Lafayette Park and marvelled at the grey squirrels' complete lack of fear of humans... one came right up to my hand (probably thinking I was feeding it) but I didn't fancy being bitten, so we left and went in search of our own breakfast. We stumbled upon a Starbucks and I had a bagel with cream cheese and a skinny white chocolate mocha (which was to become my breakfast of choice throughout most of our trip).

We headed back to the hotel via CVS again, this time to buy some medicated lip balm - something about the air in the USA always seems to give us chapped lips and dry hands for some reason, even though it might have been colder in Belfast. Strange.

At the hotel we took advantage of the free $10 credit we got for the mini bar as Kimpton In-Touch members and I got myself a little tube of cheese stick things (kind of like Nik Naks) and a Diet Coke for our onward journey. Then it was time to leave our beautiful suite and check out. Check-out was again perfectly efficient with no issues or problems, so I left with a fantastic impression of the hotel and would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone, especially if you can get a good deal on one of the suites like we did.

Outside the hotel with our backpacks on and suitcases once again in hand, we realised we were once again reliant on public transport to get to the station. Sigh. A little research had revealed that our best bet was a bit of a walk down to K Street and get a bus directly from there. The WMATA website had suggested getting the D6 bus from there, but when we arrived we came across a Circulator bus sitting at the stop that said it was going to Union Station.

We'd seen these Circulator buses going around during our time in the city but had no idea what they were or how they worked, just that they seemed a heck of a lot more regular than the Metrobus buses. We confirmed with the driver he was going to Union Station and hopped on with our cases. It was only $1 compared with Metrobus' $1.70 fare. So, more regular and cheaper and less exact change needed. I wish we'd figured this out earlier!

We arrived at Union Station and found our way to the Amtrak self-service ticket machines, scanned our barcodes and collected our tickets. Then we went down to the food court again and bought a foot-long sub each from Subway. We had half each in the food court (while I huffed at the Yorkshireman for mocking my inability to manoeuvre myself, my backpack, my suitcase and my crutch on to the fast-moving, narrow escalator down into the food court without falling to my death - how caring and sympathetic my husband is!) and saved the other half of our subs for the train.

Then it was time to bid adieu to Washington DC and take the midday train going anywherrrreeeee. Or, more specifically, New York City, baby! Yeah!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Welcome to DC - Day Two - Sunday 5 February

Sunday 5 February dawned and after we emerged from our yummy comfortable bed, we took a peek out at Washington DC by daylight.

I was still wary from my negative experience the night before, lost in the streets of an unfamiliar city with unreliable public transport. The Yorkshireman wasn't nearly as traumatised but he has some kind of inner radar that I lack, which lets him get around by instinct... also two fully functioning hips and no crutch to get around on. I was therefore unwilling to make do with his "meh, we'll figure it out" attitude and set to analysing maps and websites (thank goodness for free WiFi!).

With a handwritten crib sheet of the addresses for, and how to get between, our intended destinations of the day, I felt more comfortable and we set off downstairs to enjoy some free tea and coffee in the bar. I knew I liked this hotel!

Our first intended destination of the day was the Old Post Office Clock Tower, which I'd heard had good views over the city. The Yorkshireman recalled seeing it on our bus to the hotel the night before so off we went in search of a bus. Eventually, after a 20 minute wait, a bus rocked up and on we got. However we pretty soon realised that the inbound route of this bus was not the same as the outbound route. Aaargh!

We ended up getting off at Independence Avenue and walking (using the Yorkshireman's internal GPS) the three quarters of a mile to the Old Post Office... where we circled the thing and could. not. find. a. way. in!

3 old post office

I'd looked it up online (twice actually) and apparently whilst the shops and food court don't open until 12pm on Sundays, the Clock Tower is supposedly open from 10am. And yet, no entrance seemed open. Clearly one must have been but after yet another bus trauma, an unexpected walk (which included being pressured by a homeless guy to buy a map exactly the same as the free one we already had and were looking at at the time - way to target the tourists!) and not finding the entrance to this flipping clock tower after an entire circuit of the building, I wasn't in the mood to pursue it further and we gave up on the idea.

Instead we took a couple of photos of the J. Edgar Hoover Building across the road... I've clearly watched far too much Bones and X-Files because it was the first slight hint of excitement DC had given me (except for our hotel).

4 j edgar hoover building

Next we stumbled upon Ford's Theatre, where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and took a few photos there too.

5 ford theatre

Hungry now and with time-bound plans imminent, we decided to find somewhere to eat. Our first choice was full (ah, so that's where all the people are in DC on Sunday morning... brunch!) but then we stumbled upon a place called Spy City Café, which looked ok and actually turns out to be part of the Spy Museum. Go figure.

We got there just as breakfast was ending and lunch was starting, but we were given the breakfast menu and had no heart to discuss the matter further. I can't even remember what I had, just that it was mediocre but edible. I also remember that there was a strange ordering system (order at the till, but get a cup for your hot drinks, which you fill yourself at the side, but then take a seat and they somehow find you when your food is ready - like a cross between a Subway and an actual restaurant). I also recall that the coffee machine was out of service for ages and I needed caffeine so badly!

Eventually fed and caffeinated we headed up the street for our first appointment of the day (and the one we were most looking forward to)... we were off to see Boston Bruins play the Washington Capitals! (For those not sports orientated, that's NHL ice-hockey by the way)

We entered the Verizon Center just off 7th Street and F Street and tried to figure out where we needed to go. It was then I figure my opinion of DC started changing from "I hate this city" (direct and regular quote thus far) to "maybe it's not so bad". In part this was due to my first taste of someone actually caring that I was evidently less than fully mobile (and grouchy as hell), as a nice and efficient lady gave us directions and advice on how to get around after the game bearing in mind that hundreds of stairs were not really going to work for me and my crutch.

Thanks to the nice lady, we found our way to our floor and our section, and I decisively procured a soft pretzel (I had my first one at Madison Square Garden on our last trip to the USA and now associate them with hockey) and a beer. It was only just after midday but I was disappointed in our trip thus far and decided that day drinking was just the thing to perk me up. The Yorkshireman, probably weary from my ranting, clearly agreed and opted for the alcoholic option too. Then we settled in for the game.

6 verizon

The game was great (I love ice hockey) but I must admit that it loses a little of its shine when you're not avidly supporting one team or the other. We'd supported the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup last year and were delighted for them when they won, but we were also going to see them play our beloved New York Rangers on this trip and didn't want to encourage them. However the Caps have also always niggled me for some unknown reason and when they had a good chance on goal in the first period I felt myself go "oh no!" and knew that I should just give in to my desire to support the Bruins, even though they were the away team (gasp!). And so, I did.

6a verizon 2

I cheered for them the whole way, was excited for them when they won 4 to 1, and then gave them a warning glare from way back in the 400s at the end, just to make sure they knew that this whole supporting them malarkey was for this game only and they better bow to the superiority of the wonderful Rangers on 12 February. I'm sure they felt my wrath.

After the game, we found an elevator back down to the lobby and then started the mile-long walk down to our next venue: the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. When we were researching DC it became clear that visiting one of the Smithsonian museums was a must, but which one? In the end the choice was obvious since the Yorkshireman and I both have an interest in astronomy (when I was younger I used to sit on the flat roof of my parents' garden shed for hours at a time when there were supposed to be meteorites or other spacey phenomena - pity we lived in a city and all I ever saw was an orangey glow!). Also, the Yorkshireman and his dad seem to have some kind of old airplaney bond thing going on, so he had an additional interest there.

The Air and Space Museum was actually really interesting. I won't go into depth about all the exhibits, but I did really enjoy the Apollo one, where you could follow a lunar landing in real time from the tape recording of the audio and video transmissions and see actual stuff from actual missions, like their food packs and flight plans. Man I would love to be able to understand those flight plans - my brain imploded a little!

7 air space 1

8 air space 2

9 air space 3

10 air space 4

Alas we had our own (less complicated) plans for that evening, so we only had time for a basic overview of the exhibits and would have liked to spend more time there. I'd recommend it highly, not least because admission is free!

Next we intended to get a bus north a bit and then another towards Union Station, stopping off at a bar nearby to watch a little of the Super Bowl game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots, which was happening that night. We don't know much about NFL but since we were visiting New York and Boston on our trip, we figured it might be a talking point somewhere along the line. In the end, guess what? The first bus didn't show up! Big surprise! Even the Yorkshireman was getting frustrated at this point and even though my feet and hip were sore, even I was willing to walk the mile or so back up to the second bus stop (well, allowing for a quick Starbucks pit-stop along the way). The first bus didn't pass us the whole way by the way.

We waited for about 10 minutes at the second bus stop and again, no bus. I know it was a Sunday but stuff was open and there were hundreds of people around, many waiting for buses. The demand is clearly there - up your game WMATA! Truly fed up with public transport in DC, we decided we might as well walk the rest of the way to Union Station. I hadn't quite banked on it being quite so far away though. It was a 1.5 mile walk from the museum to the station, but I assure you it felt like longer!

Obviously walking and waiting for non-existent buses took longer than the actual buses were supposed to and by the time we got to the bar we'd intended to watch a bit of the Super Bowl at, we only had an hour until our next time-bound appointment, so we walked on by and headed for the food court at Union Station instead. I went for some pizza and beer, while the Yorkshireman was all healthy and went for a baked potato with beef. I much preferred my option.

Our next (and last) appointment of the day was with Old Town Trolley Tours for their Monuments by Moonlight Tour. We'd figured with everything else we had planned that day, we might not get to see much of what Washington DC is really famous for (no, not corruption, although...), so we'd booked the tour to ensure we covered as much as possible. Being a Sunday night and also Super Bowl night, there were only six of us on the tour, but that just meant we had no stragglers at the stops and finished the tour in good time.

Our driver was great - funny and informative (even going so far as to get us the final score of the Super Bowl over the radio - the Giants won by the way) and the tour itself was really good. We saw the Capitol Building and Washington Monument from every conceivable angle, had a look at the White House, and had stops at the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial (which was really creepy in the dark by the way!), and the Iwo Jima Memorial (Marine Corps War Memorial), which was much bigger than I'd imagine it to be from pictures.

11 capitol

11a wash mon

12 mlk jr

13 fdr

13a fdr 2

14 al mon

14 al mon 2

15 korean mem

16 iwo jima

Our driver very kindly left us all off at our hotels since there were so few of us, which gave us a chance to see a bit of Georgetown as well, including Georgetown Cupcakes from the TV show DC Cupcakes, which was sadly closed, although I think our driver might have stopped for us if they had been open - he seemed like a bit of a fan, of the cupcakes if not the show.

We were the first drop-off (thankfully after our busy day) and were greeted by fire engines and an evacuated building across the street - clearly someone's Super Bowl party had gotten out of control!

As for us, we retired to our rooms and ordered sandwiches and fries online from a place called either Cafe Mama Mia or Mamm'a Mia (depending where you look) via Seamless, while the Yorkshireman took advantage of the free WiFi and I watched Johnny tell Dr Houseman that nobody puts Baby in a corner on Dirty Dancing on one of the huge HD TVs in our suite. Apart from the fact that the Turkey Club sandwich included undisclosed cheese (much to the Yorkshireman's disappointment), it was the perfect ending to a bit of a hit-and-miss day, and a good opportunity to rest those weary feet. Sandwiches consumed, we decided to leave packing 'til the morning and went to bed.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Welcome to DC - Day One - Saturday 4 February

On Saturday 4 February, the Yorkshireman and I arose at ridonculous o'clock for a long day of travelling. Bleary-eyed but excited and armed with a well-organised and thorough travel documents folder (if I do say so myself), we caught a taxi to Belfast City Airport, then a flight to London Heathrow, where we caught another flight to Washington DC Dulles Airport.

1 Virgin plane

We flew Virgin Atlantic to the USA again and, tiny seats in economy aside, we had another great flight - their on-demand in-flight entertainment is hard to beat. This time, giddy with the thought of embarking on another adventure, I was in a chick flick/comedy mood and ended up watching What's Your Number? (predictable from the off but Anna Faris was adorable and funny as always), Friends With Benefits (good actually - even Justin Timberlake didn't put me off, which was a surprise), the Glee Concert Movie (which I had actually seen before and knew was cheesy but, what can I say, I'm a Gleek) and three episodes of Glee (because by then I was in the mood for it). The free bar certainly also gives Virgin extra brownie points for us but this time we only had two glasses of wine each (well, three if you count the one with lunch) - so well behaved!

Having cleared immigration with only about a half hour long queue, we grabbed a drink at the airport Starbucks (the Yorkshireman was glad to be back in a country where iced tea that doesn't come in a bottle with 65g of sugar added in is not a strange request and I just needed coffee) and after a bit of a wait we caught the 5A bus from just outside the terminal to L'Enfant Plaza in DC. En route I saw the Pentagon (easily the biggest building I've ever seen) and caught a glimpse of Arlington Cemetery.

Eventually we arrived at L'Enfant Plaza, where the intention was then to get a 52 or 54 bus to our hotel, but there was a bit of confusion about bus stops. Nay, a lot of confusion about bus stops. I'm not really surprised (I mean, have you seen their bus map?! It makes my brain hurt just looking at it!) Turns out that the L'Enfant Plaza stop we were dropped off at was nowhere near the L'Enfant Plaza stop we needed to get our next bus at. Also? You need exact change for the buses, which we didn't have. Feck.

One slice of cardboardy pizza and a drink from the only store around with any sign of life in it later, we had our change but were still confuddled about the bus situation. When we (ok, the Yorkshireman) finally figured it out and we made our way to the right stop, we waited 45 minutes until a 54 finally rocked up. Two actually; I guess some things never change no matter what city you're in! We would have got a taxi but the two I tried to flag didn't stop, maybe because we had luggage, I don't know. Oh and did I mention it was raining, dark, there was no-one around except other lost people, and we had a backpack and a heavy suitcase each to lug around? Also that I was still on a crutch because my hip was (is) still sore?

I was most decidedly displeased and didn't have a great first impression of DC. I mean, it was Saturday night... where was everybody?! As the bus progressed further north, life suddenly appeared, with people and restaurants and bars and shops. I was too busy trying to follow our route on Google Maps so I'd know where to get off the bus (after our earlier confusion my control freak nature was leaving nothing to chance) but the Yorkshireman reported seeing a few interesting things along the way.

All in, it took us around 19 hours to get from our front door to the check-in desk at our hotel and after the trauma of the bus incident I was not in the mood to be trifled with. Happily our hotel, the Helix, seemed well-prepared for grouchy guests and left nothing to be desired, from the efficient check-in, to the free glass of wine in their bar, to the absolutely amazing suite we were staying in, the square footage of which I swear must be bigger than our tiny mid-terrace. I also loved the décor, which was the perfect balance of retro, modern, minimalist and funky for my tastes. Words can't really do it justice, so here are a few photos:

Helix collage

The hotel is situated near where the Dupont Circle / Logan Circle / Shaw / Downtown neighbourhoods all seem to meet, so there was plenty of life around it. By the time we checked in to the hotel, marvelled at the awesomeness of our suite and enjoyed our free wine in the also-pretty-cool bar, we were hungry and so headed out in search of food.

We'd noticed a low-key little place on the way from the bus stop to the hotel called La Villa, so that's where we went. We'd thought from the name it might be Italian but it turned out to be Mexican. It wasn't particularly spicy for our chilli-loving tastes and I didn't quite get what I ordered (I just got chicken when I'd asked for chicken and steak) but regardless it was very tasty and good value for money. It "filled a hole" as one might say.

Happily full of refried beans and guacamole, we headed along to the 24 hour CVS we'd seen on our way to the hotel to buy a few snacks (by the way, white chocolate fans, have you tried Hershey's Bliss White Chocolate Meltaways? Divine!) and to pick up a few things my family had requested we bring back (corn muffin mix, anyone?).

Then it was back to the Helix for some much-needed rest. Sunday would be our only full day in DC and there was a lot we wanted to fit in, so we knew the next day would be a busy one!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

"No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow"

Title quote attributed to Lin Yutang

Fifteen days ago I was on my first day off work, running around the house like a mad eejit, cleaning and tidying and doing laundry and packing; the Yorkshireman was at work tying up all his loose ends before he also went on leave. Then, one day later we were en route to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Cupcake! Yes, our much-anticipated big USA trip 2012 had finally arrived! Wooooo!

We spent two half days and one full day in Washington DC, two half days and seven full days in New York, then two half days and one full day in Boston. We travelled by plane, train, boat, subway, bus, trolley, and most of all our feet, but strangely not once a car unless you count our transport to/from the airport in Belfast.

The weather was so mild we had no need for all the cold weather gear we'd bought in preparation, although my Sloat (sleeping-bag coat for those who can't be bothered reading the link above) was amazing, especially in places a bit colder than the norm, e.g. on a three-hour long open-air boat tour and on the observation deck of a seventy floor building.

It was a really great trip, with the usual highs and lows you expect from travelling. All things considered it was at times awesome, interesting, busy, relaxing, frustrating, intriguing, weird, cool, painful, most excellent and legen... wait for it.... dary! ('lil How I Met Your Mother reference there). We're now suffering the effects of jet-lag and I'm suffering from an associated lack of milk for coffee, so we'll have to venture out into the familiar greyness and drizzle of Belfast to go to the supermarket and readjust to being home. Alas, the holiday is over, but at least we don't have to go back to work until Monday!

Just like on our trip to New York back in November 2010, I'm going to write a blog entry about each day of our trip separately but since I want to include photos this time, there might be a bit of a delay as I wait for the Yorkshireman to upload them and stuff. Also while we compare notes - we've found that each of us seems to remember little bits about each day that the other person doesn't.

But yes, we're back. The usual routine of work and responsibility will soon start again, but until then I plan to enjoy reliving our adventures a little bit more through photos and blogging... oh and my credit card statement. Doh!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Get out of my head!

You know when you see or hear something and it gets stuck in your head for days? And it's alternately irritating and awesome depending on what it is? Yeah... I thought I would share some things I have had stuck in my head recently. You're welcome.

I'm Elmo and I know it

I've Got a Feeling from Buffy Once More With Feeling

What What In The Butt from South Park
(I know... I am ashamed but powerless!)

Jumbaco Advertisement for American fast food company Jack In The Box

Shipoopi from Family Guy

Boots and Cats