Category Archives: City Break

A Mini Travel Re-Do

For those of you amused by my return-to-Paris plans, here’s another good one–I’m leaving for NYC tomorrow.  I’ll only be there for the weekend, and I’m going to attend a conference, but still.  You may remember my I Hate New York post from last July, which turned out to be merely the amuse bouche of the eight course tasting menu of suck that was my Europe experience.  If you do remember that post, you are likely laughing and, again, rubbing your hands together in anticipatory glee.

Fortunately, I think I’ve learned from my mistakes.  We’re staying at a hotel that is walking distance from the bus station and from my main destination–a conference I’m attending.  We have dinner reservations for both nights–at Le Colonial tomorrow night and at The Modern on Saturday night.  I’m super excited about the second one–I’ve wanted to go there for some time.

Another exciting part of this trip is that I may finally get to visit the Met.  It is open late on Fridays, so depending upon what time we arrive tomorrow, it may be possible.  This is me crossing my fingers.

If you can’t wait to see how badly…er, well…the weekend goes and  want to follow along, check out my real-time travel blog, Virtual Passenger.  You can subscribe, and my updates will appear in your inbox in all of their awful…er…awesome glory.


Long Weekend

This is not a post about travel.  It is a post about a lack thereof.

In my last-Thursday post, I discussed my desperate need to get away for a few days.  Well, I’m sad to report that this just didn’t happen.  Why?  Blame it on a backup of work, unforeseen circumstances, and that responsibility that comes with having a husband and a home, but it just wasn’t in the cards for President’s weekend.

I had big plans.  I wanted to finally get to the Met, as I’ve never been (and I wanted to conquer my dislike of NYC).  I wanted to visit a friend who lives not-even-that-far-away whilst doing generally touristy things in Philly.  I wanted to experimentally educationally travel, so I’d have some content for my new educational travel blog.  But that’s all going to have to wait for another day.

What did I do, then?  I took a break from working on my various projects and took myself out for lunch.  I cleaned my entire house, had a slumber party, and worked on my book proposal.  I visited my grandparents, went to a home show, and hung out with my mom.  I made a nice dinner for my husband, did two loads of laundry, and finalized plans for my next trip.  All in all, not a bad four day weekend.

However, I did encourage readers to post mean comments if I didn’t get out of town.  So–have at it!




Weekend Getaway

I’ve realized that blogging serves a very important purpose–it allows me to remember things I’ve done.  It sounds simple, but really, it is quite important.  For example, I didn’t write a blog post for the third day we spent in D.C.  And I don’t remember the details as well as I’d like.  Which is upsetting.  For example, I know we went to the National Gallery for a while, but I don’t remember specific things I liked about it–and I know they were many.  I know we went out for dinner, but I don’t remember what I had, aside from the fact that it was some kind of fish with some kind of foam on it.  I know I took lots of pictures, but as I never plugged any of them into a post, I don’t remember the specifics.  And so, I continue to blog about my travels, even when I can’t or don’t do so directly on my phone, directly from said travels.

All of that being said…ahem…

My husband and I spent this past weekend in Philadelphia.  We went to go to the flower show, but ended up also having dinner with a friend of mine (who I was shocked to discover I’d not seen in YEARS); we also made it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (which I can’t believe I’ve never visited).  We started out with a valiant plan–we’d leave IMMEDIATELY after work, make it down there before five, spend the evening at the museum, hit the flower show on Saturday before drinks with said friend and a nice dinner.  We forgot to factor in one thing–Friday rush hour traffic.

I stupidly thought that everyone would be leaving the city at this time, rendering the road in front of us blissfully empty but the lanes to our left mind-bogglingly clogged.  How wrong I was.  All of the lanes were mind-bogglingly clogged–ours included.  It took us 2.5 hours to make the 50 mile trip; we checked in to the hotel after 6:30pm, rendering our Friday night museum plan completely void.  But, fortunately, said friend was available for dinner that night, and we had a fantastic time.  Though note to self–never allow the husband to go out for dinner anywhere when he’s THAT hungry.  We went to a very reasonably priced BBQ-esque place, and ended up spending way too much, as the starving husband ordered half the menu.

After sleeping in on Saturday morning, we made our way to the art museum from our hotel located behind city hall–if they look close together on a map or even on the skyline, they are NOT–we took a cab for the return trip.  But the museum itself was amazing.  I’ve never been to a museum like that–though, to be fair, most of the museums I’ve been do have been various Smithsonian run establishments (which, again to be fair, are deservedly impressive in their own right).  Aside from the amazing (but temporary) Picasso exhibit, this was less a museum of art and more a museum of culture–the second floor was a maze of the best of eastern and western culture, set up in a series of rooms complete with period furniture, lighting, and accessories.  Entire temples and chapels were installed exactly as they once stood in all parts of the world.  It was beyond anything that I could have hoped for.  At one point I actually thought–screw going to Europe.  I’ll just come back here.

The added bonus–the museum was empty.  Note the picture to the left–there’s no one else there.  For rooms and rooms, my husband and I roamed alone, with only the occasional security guard for company.  This was because EVERYONE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE CITY WAS AT THE FLOWER SHOW.  I’d write more about it, but really it can all be summed up with this: it would have been really beautiful if not for the thousands of people milling about.  Large masses of people are typically not very picturesque, not even when surrounded by thousands of plants and flowers.  But I managed to get a few good shots–see below.  Next year I will either not go at all, or go on a week day.

That night we went to Parc for dinner, as per the suggestion of my ever-wise uncle (whom I’ve not seen in real life in WAY more than two years–it has been maybe eight or nine?  Thank god for facebook!)  We had an amazing meal–my husband couldn’t decided if he was more thrilled with the fries or the steak smothered in herb butter (butter and steak–his two favorite things), and I was in heaven with a dish of seared scallops over black lentils in a wild mushroom sauce (which, to be fair, must have contained at least some butter, and did in fact contain a few pieces of thick cut bacon).  Best dinner ever.

The given purpose of the mini-trip was to go to the flower show–the actual purpose was to get away from our life for a while and have fun.  And we achieved both goals–the latter more so than the former.  I think all couples need to do this sort of thing from time to time, on whatever scale they can manage.  We simply went to the nearest metropolitan area.  The nearest campground or the farthest, most exotic island, the most obscure small town–all would work equally well, and at some point I hope to visit each of those…and then some.

Two Thousand Words on Day Two

Me in a cute little nook in the garden of the National Cathedral

Outside the National Cathedral

Inside the National Cathedral

Day two dawned bright and early, as I’d set an alarm to make the most of our short trip.  Our first goal was the National Cathedral, and I had originally planned to take a tour bus to the Cathedral, and then use the $30, good-for-two-day tickets to get us around the city for the rest of the weekend.  But we decided this would be silly, as most things–other than the Cathedral–were walkable or metro-able, and knowing myself, I imagined being annoyed at having to wait for a tour bus to get to the next stop on my schedule.  So instead we opted to spend the money on a taxi for the Cathedral and get around on our own for the rest of the weekend.  Travel tip–that was a good idea.  We ended up using cabs more often than we thought, but we still didn’t come anywhere near to spending the $60 plus tax we would have spent on the tour bus, and the tour busses stop running at 5pm.  I was a bit concerned about getting back from the Cathedral, as it is in a very residential part of town, but this proved to be not even a little bit of a problem.  The Cathedral itself was, hands-down, the highlight of our trip.  I’ve never seen an actual cathedral before–I’ve never been to Europe–and ever since I read The Pillars of the Earth I’ve been quite fascinated with them, though that fascination was restricted to google image searches.  The National Cathedral was maybe ten times bigger than I had imagined–I was literally awesome; it inspired awe.  I was filled with awe.  Awe was everywhere.  We spent a good half hour outside, maybe more.  The gardens were beautiful, and this was at the end of November; I will go back in nicer weather.  After taking about fifty outside pictures, we went inside to take fifty more.  The light was amazing.  The height was amazing.  The intricacy was amazing.  It was amazing.  On top of the sheer beauty of the the place, the guided tour we went on–guided tour two of I don’t know how many throughout the weekend–was the most interesting and the most well done.  The docent was extremely intelligent, kind, and funny.  I highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting the capitol.  And the second best part–second only to the actual experience of the Cathedral itself–we walked out to Massachusetts Avenue fifty yards from the front door of the Cathedral, my husband put his arm out, and a cab magically appeared!  So much for not being able to get back to the Mall.

We asked the cab driver to take us to the Capitol, and he dropped us as close as you can get to the entrance to the visitor’s center without breaking federal laws–any closer and he would have been parking on the Capitol lawn.  We waited in what at first seemed to be a very long line, but moved rather quickly–and thank goodness, because it seemed a screaming baby was following us around the whole weekend; I think the line for the Capitol is where where that all started.  We went into the somewhat underwhelming visitor’s center–though we both appreciated the plethora of restrooms–and went to the ticketing desk.  I’d spent about twenty minutes filling out a tiny form on my iPhone the night before, reserving timed tickets for us which, it turned out, was all together unnecessary, as we were about forty minutes early for our reserved time and the very nice ticket officer gave us tickets for the next tour, starting that very second, so we didn’t have to wait.  We then got to stand in line again–but this was just to wait for the tour to begin, and again passed quickly; as soon as they opened the doors to the orientation theatre we all filed in and the 13 minute movie began.  The theatre had stadium seating–sit up as far as you can, as everyone exits not through the doors you entered from at the bottom, but through doors at the top.  The whole process was quite efficient, and after the movie–it seems all tours in DC start with a short film, this one of great interest, as it made congressmen out to be some kind of hero, which my husband thought was VERY funny–we were led off into the Capitol itself.

The line for the Capitol Visitor's Center

The Capitol Rotunda

The tour actually began in one of those long, roped off lines–the kind that you expect to end in the It’s A Small World ride.  But the efficiency continued, as one tour guide took one row each off in a different direction to begin the tour.  We got to see the Capitol rotunda, of Dan Brown nouveau-fame, the old Senate Chambers, and ‘the crypt’, which is simply a columned room that lies below the rotunda.  There was one guy on the tour with us–or should I say one OTHER guy–who was clearly there because he’d read The Lost Symbol, and he continued to ask the tour guide very obviously from-the-novel questions about the Capitol’s ‘secrets’.  I could tell the guide was getting tired of saying the same thing over and over again–some variation of ‘no, sir, that’s simply not true’–but it was very funny.  It was like the ‘Why Dan Brown is Wrong Tour of the Capitol’.  At the end we returned to where we started, checked out the tackiest gift shop in all of Washington (no, thank you, I would not like a Michelle Obama brass Christmas tree ornament), and made our way back out into a beautiful November afternoon.

Me and the Capitol Dome

We walked around the south side of the Capitol, pausing near the steps to take a picture; my husband mused that when he’d been there last–ages and ages ago on a class trip–you could walk right up the steps, there was that little security.  This time the entire building was ‘guarded’ by a waist high movable metal fence.  I don’t really see the point in this, or how it makes anything more secure, but we posed there to take each other’s picture anyway.  At least it gave us something to lean upon.  As we approached the Botanic Gardens we noticed a very long line, and sighed–surely they wouldn’t make us go through security to look at plants.  Fortunately we discovered that the long line was for some sort of Christmas Train Kid’s event–we entered without a problem through the actual main doors.  Now, perhaps I’m prejudiced because we visited Longwood Gardens this past summer, but the National Botanic Gardens were a huge disappointment.  The one good picture I took is posted here; I imagine that had we visited in the spring or summer, at least the outside would have been something to see.  The inside, however, was insanely crowded and even more than that, extremely underwhelming.  To stand in what amounted to a line that formed around the entire arboretum just to look at a very large aloe plant and cross a tree trunk bridge–no thanks.  We stayed for about twenty minutes and then narrowly escaped before being crushed to death by people trying to get past other people trying to take photos of orchids.  We will not be going back.

Looking down from the second story catwalk at the National Botanic Gardens. Eh..

On the heels of this disappointment came a bit of a treat, in the form of the cafeteria at the American Indian Museum.  That’s right, I said cafeteria.  We read in our guide book that Mitsam–the name of the cafeteria–was your best bet for museum dining, and the guide

My lunch at Mitsam. Yes, they serve beer. Yes, Doug had one.

book did not steer us wrong.  It was, of course, set up cafeteria style, with different stations for different types of native cuisine, and every geographic area in the Americas was represented.  You could have salmon dishes at the Pacific Northwest station, buffalo bbq at the plains indians area, rabbit and quail in the Northeast, yucca and quinoa in the South American section…the list literally goes on and on.  I became overwhelmed–which was in no small part due to the fact that it was nearing 3:00 and I’d only had a bland scone all day, and even that was at eight in the morning–and eventually picked the line for South American food, as it seemed the most exotic.  This presented an additional challenge, as I then had to pick something.  Starving tourist tip–when in doubt, find someone who knows what they are doing and copy them.  Which is what I did–I pointed to the woman’s plate in front of me, that had been expertly ordered might I add, and said ‘I’ll have whatever she’s having’.  The man smiled at me and made up the plate of food pictured.  It was very, very good, and not just because I was starving.

We planned to simply visit the museum for lunch, but we figured that while we were there we’d check it out.  It is the newest of the Smithsonian museums (ironic, as it deals with the oldest aspect of our nation–only in America would we have a museum devoted to the flag and a fictional character’s fictional ruby slippers before a museum devoted to that nation’s first people) and even from outside it was visually appealing–a very organic looking structure standing in stark contrast with the roman columns of almost every other building in the area (and the angular glass and brick structure of the Air and Space Museum next door).  So we checked it out, and were glad that we did.  The upstairs contained a history of the different peoples as told through their different views of the

The exterior of the American Indian Museum

universe–it was extremely well put together, and very informative.  Looking at the similarities and differences–there were many of both–between the different tribes was extremely thought provoking.  One floor down we visited a modern art exhibit from a Native artist who makes art out of sports equipment.  It sounds odd, but it was actually really neat–my husband LOVED it.  Back down on the first floor, there were native dancers and a large sand mandala being made.  All in all we were glad we went, and not just for the great food.

At this point we were understandably exhausted, yet we made one last stop at the Museum of Natural History.  It was open late–until 7:30–for the holiday weekend, so we stopped in at five o’ clock simply because it was on our list of things to see.  It used to be one of my favorites, back in the day when I spent my lunch breaks on the Mall, second only to the National Gallery.  But the thing about Natural History is this–it never changes.  Thus, everything was exactly the same as it had been over ten years ago when I’d been there last.  Plus it was crawling with screaming children–we checked out the mammals room, the dinosaurs, and the oceans exhibit and got the hell out of there.  I still do love the sculpture garden, and seeing it at dusk was lovely.

We walked home–I think by that point my theory was ‘how much more could my feet really hurt’–plus we wanted to pick up a bottle of wine.  Thanks to a marvelous iPhone app called ManGo, we located a liquor store only a half of a block out of the way, which also resulted in locating a bar on that same corner–yes, we stopped at a bar AFTER stopping to pick up wine–and I had THE BEST SANGRIA EVER.  The place is called McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood and is located at 9th and F St. NW.  I found–only after googling it to give it a review–that this is actually a chain of related restaurants, all having something to do with seafood or steaks.  I can’t speak to the quality of the food, but the sangria was to die for.  It started with freshly squeezed–as in right there in front of me–orange juice, and it only got better from there.  Had we passed it walking again that weekend, I would have had to stop for another.

Doug and I sharing some sort of Salmon/Phyllo/Feta dish. Mmmm.

We returned to the hotel only slightly buzzed from said sangria and got ready for dinner at Zaytinya, which was thankfully only about a block and a half from our hotel.  Zaytinya specializes in middle eastern small plates, or mezze.  We ordered several to share; we had goat cheese wrapped around sun dried tomatoes, rolled in black pepper and wrapped in grape leaves, a trio of spreads with warm pita bread that continued to arrive fresh at our table, and a selection of meat and seafood dishes that I can’t remember–aside from the veal cheeks in some sort of puree that I loved.  I know there were scallops, and my husband had short ribs…and I had two drinks that were considered a house specialty that I cannot name, but I remember that A.  they involved pomegranate and B. thinking ‘damn this is strong’, so that could have something to do with my not remembering the rest.  The meal was very good–the drinks were even better, and we stumbled up the street and back to the hotel for the evening.


Funny thing…if all one does is talk about writing for days on end, one ends up with very little to actually write about.  So contrary to how I ended my last post, I did end up visiting Burlington yesterday, and it turned out to be a pretty good idea. New York’s lakes would have been too much of a drive, and as it turns out, Vermont has a pretty nice lake of its own.  Though, to be fair, Lake Champlain is on the border, so I suppose I achieved both of my goals (Before I left for Vermont, I had a great disagreement with Doug about whether the lake was, in fact, in New York or Vermont, and for the first time in a while, we were BOTH right.)

It took me about an hour to get into town, and I promptly found a parking spot–or should I say parking lot–and paid the fourteen-year-old boy ‘in charge’ the eight dollars, only to discover that there were not, in fact, any parking spots available in the lot.  Fortunately someone was just leaving, so I quickly stole that spot, but I still wonder what happened to all the people in the cars that were lined up, happily paying money, only to be let into a parking lot that was well beyond capacity.  And I wonder what happened to the idiot kid that allowed that to happen.  Pissed off tourists can be brutal.

The crowded lot was right on the waterfront, and I walked a few hundred feet down to a shed where I bought a ticket for The Spirit of Ethan Allen III–a creepy name that made me picture ghosts of side tables and richly upholstered chaise lounges.  There was, unfortunately, a tour group of really, REALLY old people–the kind of old people that, I’m sorry but it is true, smelled strongly of urine–were scheduled to take the same tour.  Thankfully they had organized a trip that included a buffet lunch, which meant they were an entire deck below where I sat, and inside in the safely sun-less and air conditioned dining portion of the ship.  I stayed up on the upper deck, outside in the sun; I would, however, have paid a few extra bucks to get to watch what a group of 90-somethings looked like, shuffling and rolling in walkers and wheelchairs, whilst trying to serve themselves from a buffet on a boat.

It was a lovely cruise–just under two hours–and I learned many things about the local history and topography–which are often tied together in odd, military-esque ways–and got a pretty nice sunburn, especially on my nose.  I think my giant sunglasses acted as a sort of reflector, and I shocked myself later when I saw my reflection in  restroom mirror.

I then trudged up the hill hoping to find lunch–which I eventually had two hours later at a creperie about twenty yards from the boat and my car–and found, instead, the cutest little downtown area.  I didn’t know Burlington was such a touristy town, but sure enough, there was a whole street blocked off and dedicated to outdoor cafes and overpriced shops.  I browsed for far too long–and found the cheap college dorm room style tapestries I’d been looking for to use as curtain panels–had a crepe for lunch, and finally made my way back to Bread Loaf.

It was a nice day.  It felt good to get out and feel like a real person, a member of the real world. And that was after only a day and a half here.  I’m here for one more week–in fact, one week from right now, I will still be here.  Time is strange here.  And the scary thing is, I’m starting to get used to it.

I’d like to post more about the actual Bread Loaf experience, but I have a craft class to get to.  Plus, I’m sitting in the only air conditioned building on campus, and my left arm–because it is closer to the AC unit–is rapidly turning blue from the cold.   More later.