Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas in Columbus

My last stop for the holidays was Columbus, and since I was there for barely 36 hours I certainly didn't get to do all I had hoped.

But I did have enough time to play one of my three-year-old nephew Rylan's favorite games: Doctor. We check each other's reflexes, bandage wounds and dole out medicine. This time my eight-year-old nephew Conrad got in on the action and introduced a new element: Amputation.

Luckily I crossed one thing off my to-do list while I was in Columbus. I went to the grocery store. Kroger felt like such a luxury-- wide aisles, huge selection. I loaded up on all of the stuff that's difficult to find in New York, expensive to buy, or both. Oh, and also 75 pounds of kitty litter.

So that was my Christmas, and now it's already New Year's Eve. Here's wishing everyone a prosperous 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas in Defiance

Last week was the first time it was just the three of us: Mom, Dad and me. Paul, of course, was in Columbus, and my sister Katie obviously moved out when she married earlier this year.

I enjoyed spending time with my family, but I had to laugh at some of the differences in our lifestyles. The most obvious change? The meals.

Paul and I eat supper extremely late-- usually between 9 and 10 p.m. In Defiance, we rarely ate a meal after 5 p.m. But I didn't complain (too loudly, anyway).

I was able to see Katie and her husband Jay a few times, and both sets of grandparents came to our house for Christmas lunch. We spent the remainder of the day at the home of my maternal grandparents. I think this was the first time absolutely everyone -- all of my aunts, uncles, cousins and second-cousins -- were there. Yep, all 34 of us. I hope I counted correctly.

Paul drove to Defiance in time to make it for the annual games of bingo we play before supper. Everyone brings $1 gifts. Some are good; a few are even funny. Among our loot: chocolate covered cherries (good) and "What to Expect When You're Expecting" (funny, since we won't be needing that anytime soon!).

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas by Greyhound

We're back in New York after a lovely week in Ohio. And I do mean lovely. Although the week started out cold, it was 66 degrees on Saturday!

So much happened that I'll have to split my adventures into a few blogs. For now, I'll concentrate on the first 12 hours of my vacation: The Greyhound ride home.

I went straight to the Port Authority bus terminal near Times Square straight after work last Monday. No problem.

I had purchased my ticket online, but I knew I had to get a paper ticket at the terminal either at a kiosk or from a Greyhound employee. The first two kiosks I saw were broken, so I prepared myself for the long line.

I waited. And waited. I had plenty of time to look around-- and noticed that while one of the giant clocks on the wall displayed the correct time, the other was off by 16 minutes. Not very helpful for people trying to catch a bus.

Finally I got my ticket. "Which gate?" I asked. "Seventeen," I heard.

It was only then that I noticed more kiosks-- including a few that were, indeed, working.

No matter, I thought. I had about 90 minutes to spare, and Greyhound recommends the passengers arrive merely an hour before the bus departs. So I went off in search of Gate 17.

I found it, but I was confused. There was no mention of Greyhound anywhere. I looked at my ticket-- there was a 17 printed in the top left corner. But I looked at the envelope the lady at the counter handed me. Gate 70. Oops!

The room with Gate 70 was packed with Greyhound passengers all in separate lines. See, even if you buy a Greyhound ticket, you aren't guaranteed a seat. So evidently people get there early in order to have the best shot.

I was worried-- dozens of people were ahead of me. And to make things even more inconvenient (1) the room was cold because of the open doors allowing passengers to board the buses, (2) there were no seats in the room and (3) I couldn't go to the bathroom lest I lose my place in line.

Eventually an employee split all of us at Gate 70 into at least three lines for different buses, and I did get a seat toward the back of my bus. In fact, for awhile I thought I would have the entire seat to myself.

Alas, across the aisle was a woman with what appeared to be her teenage daughter. And this daughter had a giant stuffed dog the size of a 10-year-old. So the girl and her dog got a seat to themselves, while I shared a seat with the mom.

Nevertheless, the trip wasn't a bad experience. In fact, I really do look at it as an adventure. The people were nice, I got a bit of sleep, and the stops were on time. We even left New York 15 minutes early.

All in all, I'd do it again in a pinch.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Getting Around New York

I love the subway.

OK, I don't like the occasional pile of puke underneath a seat. Or waiting 20 minutes for the next train. Or being packed like sardines during the morning commute (it doesn't happen everyday- really!).

But overall it's a convenient, comparatively cheap form of transportation.

In Ohio, Paul and I each had about a 70 mile round-trip commute. When gas was $2/gallon, I estimate that together we spent $200/month filling up our tanks just to get to and from work.

Here, we each buy a 30-day unlimited ride Metrocard for $81 apiece, which grants us access to the subway system and almost all buses. The price of the card is supposed to rise above $100 next year. Sure, I'd rather not have the increase, but I think we'll still come out ahead on our transportation costs.

The one thing that puts a dent in my calculations is the one car we still own. That means we still have to pay car insurance. Now and again, it is nice to have a vehicle. We could visit Allison and Phil in Maryland last weekend on our own time, instead of depending on a bus. We can load up the car with cat litter instead of lugging it back by hand. And Paul does use it for work once in awhile.

One bad thing about driving around here? All of the tolls.

We spent almost $50 just to get to and from Baltimore, which seems a bit ridiculous for a three-hour trip. Granted, part of those tolls were for the turnpike. At least then I feel like I'm paying for lighter traffic and a higher speed limit. What really irks me are the bridge tolls. What am I supposed to do-- swim across?

I don't have to worry about tolls this week. I'm taking an overnight Greyhound bus from New York to Toledo on Monday night, so this will be my last post until after Christmas. Happy holidays!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It's No Christmas Tree, But ...

We don't really have room for a Christmas tree. Even if we could squeeze it into the corner of the living room, we certainly don't have room to store an artificial one the other 11 months of the year.

Real trees are sold on the corner a couple of blocks from here, but lugging one up three flights of stairs, watching the cats destroy it and then lugging it down three flights in January doesn't sound like much fun.

Instead, this is the second year I've created my own Christmas "tree" out of the curio cabinet my parents gave us for a wedding present. The glassware gets stored for a month, and in its place I arrange the ornaments in the pretty glass bowls we also received as wedding gifts but rarely use.

I even place some garland on top, along with a big red bow.

As for Christmas lights, I hang those around the door to the living room. Another strand frames the large window looking down toward the street.

It's not a tree, but it's festive enough for me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Weekend in Baltimore

This weekend Paul and I finally visited my college roommate Allison and her boyfriend Phil in Baltimore. I say "finally" because Baltimore is only three hours away, and this is the closest we've lived to each other since she graduated.

We were there less than 36 hours, but Allison and Phil gave us a great overview of the city and we can't wait to return. The weekend mostly revolved around food and drinks (I'm not complaining!). I managed to try some type of seafood soup at a restaurant within walking distance of their apartment, pierogis at a cozy Slavic restaurant downtown, and several sips at a winery outside of the city. Paul even tried a few Baltimore brews.

Allison and I at Boordy Vineyards

Michael Phelps lives in Baltimore, so one of the highlights was when a cashier at the winery asked Paul if he knew how much they resemble each other. Then she pointed out Paul to a co-worker or two!

On Sunday, Allison and Phil took us to a fun diner for brunch (think Hot Wheels and plastic army men glued to the wall and dolls hanging from the ceiling fans) followed by a trip to the Inner Harbor. The air was brisk, but the sun was out and the views across the water were beautiful.

I picked up a few brochures while we were there, so I'm getting ready for our next visit!
Phil, Allison & Paul at the Inner Harbor
I've already asked Paul for a ride on a sea monster paddle boat the next time we visit!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

No Time to Dawdle: Walking in New York

I think I first became a fast walker after our many trips to Cedar Point when I was a kid. As soon as the gates opened, my dad, sister and I would rush to the newest ride with the longest line, leaving my mom in the dust.

All that practice came in handy at Ohio State, where the size of the campus combined with my procrastination meant I absolutely had to walk fast if I was going to make it to class in time. Or stay warm and dry, depending on the weather.

But all that's nothing compared to the way I walk here: not only fast, but with a purpose.

I certainly don't wait for the walk signal-- a quick flick of the head to make sure no buses will barrel me over does the trick. On the rare occasions that I do have to wait for the signal to change (mainly in Manhattan), I certainly don't wait on the sidewalk. That, I've noticed is a sure sign of a tourist. Locals creep out as far as they can into the street, ready to dash if nary a car hits the breaks for even a split second.

I did my share of jaywalking at OSU, but it's at a whole different level here. At least a few times a week I even make a diagonal across an intersection on my 4 block walk home from the subway. It's like a tiny present at the end of a long day. Paul says Ohio University in Athens has a marked, legal diagonal crosswalk. That's something I'd like to see!

How I walk isn't anything unusual here-- in fact, it would be unusual *not* to walk like this. The only exception? Parents with strollers. They (usually) stay on the sidewalks and follow the signals.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Paul, Old and Wise

Paul turned the grand old age of 30 on Sunday, and in an effort to drown his sorrows I planned a tour of eight of the best beer bars in New York over the weekend.

Yep, I really am the best wife a boy (or at least Paul the homebrewer) could ask for.

The beer odyssey, as Paul called it, was split between two nights. We hit four bars on Friday and another four on Saturday. Half were old favorites, half we knew by legend only.

So here's the itinerary and reviews, with help from Paul.

The stops on Friday:

1. Burp Castle. A small bar in the East Village specializing in Belgian beers. The bar is dedicated to the monastic tradition of beer, complete with murals of monks and beer barrels on the wall. I especially like the image of monks on a raft, drinking it up while a ship sank in the background. I also like my Lindemans Framboise-- yummy raspberry beer.

2. Blind Tiger Ale House. A bar in the West Village with a large selection of mostly American, English and Irish beers. It's a no frills type of place to enjoy a quality beer-- substance over style here (although the working fireplace is a nice touch).

3. The Ginger Man. Located not far from the Empire State Building is the largest bar (by New York standards) I'd ever been to in Manhattan. The large number of bottles and few draft selections cater to the young urban professionals. Anyone from Columbus would call it the rich man's Brothers. Paul was especially pleased to find one of his favorite beer here: Elysian's Avatar. It's brewed in Seattle, and that's the only place he'd ever drank it.

4. The Brazen Head. We ended the night in Brooklyn, at this average neighborhood bar (though not our neighborhood. Your average taps, with a higher than average number of people drinking cans of PBR. Paul calls that the beer of hipsters.

Stops on Saturday:

1. Spuyten Duyvil. We began Saturday night in Williamsburg, another of Brooklyn's hipster havens. This place is known also known for it's Belgian's, and also for being kind of hard to find. The only "sign" was the small label on the bar's mailbox. Paul says the bar was like being in an indie rocker's basement. But I guess that's high praise, because it was his favorite bar of the weekend that we had never before visited. Another plus: the gluhwein, or spiced wine that's served warm in a coffee mug.

2. Barcade. Consistently a favorite, we frequent this Williamsburg bar equally for the excellent selection of draft beers as well as for the arcade games that line the walls of the former industrial space. Paul says the bar has an amazing selection of beers from the tri-state area (meaning New York, New Jersey and Connecticut). Also an amazing selection of games: Tetris, Frogger, Marble Madness, Crystal Castle, and Outrun to name a few.

3. Heartland Brewery. We first went to this Times Square restaurant/bar/brewery on our honeymoon, and Paul fell in love (with the beer, not with me). The old standby.

4. Pacific Standard. At the stroke of midnight we celebrated Paul's birthday at this, our favorite bar not only in Brooklyn but in all of New York. We briefly considered ordering Miller High Life ("The Champagne of Beers") to celebrate the occasion, but instead opted for a couple of pints from their large selection of mostly West Coast beers. Paul says it makes him want to become a Hollywood liberal.

Sorry- no pictures of beer for the blog. You know what that looks like anyway, right? But I did snap one photo in a subway station Saturday night that proves that although Paul may be 30, he hasn't quite succumbed to old age (or maybe even adulthood!) yet.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Times Two

Common sense tells me that this shouldn't come as a shock, and yet it does.

I'm now doing and seeing things in New York for the *second* time.

My second Halloween in New York, Thanksgiving in New York and, of course, my second holiday season.

Last year I remember walking back from the subway to the apartment, looking up at the Christmas lights and decorations strung across the avenue and thinking how happy I was to live here. I got that same feeling tonight.

On Monday I went to my second Winter's Eve at Columbus Circle. I went by myself last year because Paul wasn't feeling well, but this year we went together. Some really great restaurants set up tents along Broadway and sell dishes and desserts for $1 to $4, and some of it is even free. I remembered getting some of the best chocolate mousse I've ever had last year, so of course I tracked that down again.

Of course, the free stuff was the most fun: pumpkin and eggnog soft-serve ice cream, chocolate bark, hot chocolate, coffee (for Paul, not me!), and cotton candy. Paul had as much fun as I did Monday night, and I think I have the cotton candy to thank.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Another Thanksgiving in New York

Happy Thanksgiving!

Last year on this day I fulfilled a lifelong dream by attending the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. But unlike last year, which was a freakishly warm 70 degrees, today was about 40 degrees colder. So instead I watched the parade from the comfort of my own couch.

That's OK, because Paul and I got our fill of the parade last night. The gigantic balloons are inflated the night before Thanksgiving and netted down on a couple of side streets just west of Central Park. Not knowing what to expect, we went to see for ourselves.

The experience actually was more of a hassle than attending the parade itself. The crowds were as thick as cranberry sauce, and the line to reach even the first balloon stretched several blocks. But once you reached them it was fun seeing the balloons at eye-level, if you can say that about something that's three stories tall.

All in all, we spent about two hours in line and seeing the balloons-- nearly as long as we were at the parade itself last year. My advice? Watch the real thing and go to the parade.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My Day Job

Besides me, I think only one or two people have a clear understanding of what I do for a living. Neither of those people are related to me.

It's time to correct this. Since today marks my one-year anniversary of being a fully-employed New Yorker, I thought this would be as good a time as any to explain my job.

I work for a company based in lower Manhattan that provides language services (mostly translation, transcription, interpreting and voice overs) to individuals, organizations and companies large and small. You name a business, and we've probably worked with them-- Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, museums, hospitals, banks, etc.

When I first started I wrote pages for one of the company's web sites and did a little proofreading of translated documents (not proofing the foreign language, but making sure everything in the document was translated, checking the format and items like that).

Today I am a content manager for one of the sites, in charge of writing and posting new pages as well as maintaining a blog. About half of my time is spent on writing, creating and perfecting landing pages for our marketing campaigns. We have a web team that designs the templates for the pages, but I write most of the copy and supervise the publishing of the hundreds of landing pages.

My daily vocabulary now consists of a whole new set of acronyms: PPC, CMS, SEO. That's pay-per-click, content management system and search engine optimization for the uninitiated.

So now you understand why I simply tell people I'm in internet marketing.

Monday, November 10, 2008

In the Heights, Front and Center

About a month ago I read that a few lucky people get cheap front row tickets to select Broadway shows by entering a lottery at the box office a couple of hours before the show starts. I did a little research and found that this was true for just a handful of shows, including one that I really wanted to see: In the Heights.

That's why Paul, me and about 80 other people crowded outside the Heights box office Saturday night. Put your name in the bucket and if your slip is drawn, you are the proud owner of two front row tickets for $26.50 apiece. Regular price: $120.

Only 22 tickets were available, so are chance were fair but not great. But whose was the fourth name drawn? Paul!

Our seats were nearly dead center, above and behind the conductor and orchestra pit. During the standing ovation, we easily could have reached out and shook hands with the stars of the show. We were close enough to see each bead of sweat, and even to get spit on a few times (maybe a few rows back would've been better after all!).

It was an amazing experience-- I got both my best and cheapest Broadway tickets on the same night!

I was first introduced to In the Heights when I watched this year's Tony's, where the show won Best Musical. You can see a clip of the cast's performance here:

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Day: Christmas Arrives Early

Tuesday felt a bit like Christmas morning. All excitement, anticipation. And when the election was finally called for Obama, I felt like I got everything I asked for.

It's odd to actually be endorsing a candidate. As a journalist it is strictly forbidden to publicly support any candidate, whether for county commission or President of the United States. No taking telephone polls, no signs in the yard, and no signing petitions.

But this election cycle I could tell anyone who would listen that I would be voting for Obama. Not that too many people asked. If you live in New York, especially New York City, it's pretty much assumed that you're a Democrat.

Our neighborhood is conservative, however, so Paul fits right in. While Paul didn't vote for Obama, he also didn't vote for McCain. He cast one of the approximately 17 votes for Libertarian candidate Bob Barr. OK, maybe that estimate is a little low. But Paul long supported Ron Paul, and even McCain circa 2000.

Our polling place is only a block from our apartment, in a gymnasium at the local Lutheran preschool. We anticipated a long line, so we decided to vote together, hoping to pass the time with conversation, in iPod and a couple of books. No need. We had absolutely no line, which was a pleasant surprise.

Of course, we were glued to the TV the rest of the night and only went to bed after watching Obama's victory speech. It all seemed very reminiscent of "Evita," didn't it? I kept expecting the crowds in Chicago to chant "O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma," while he breaks out into "Don't cry for me, US voters." He might have been able to pull it off.

Monday, November 3, 2008

NYC Marathon: Spectators This Time

Paul wasn't able to register for the New York City Marathon, but that didn't stop him (or me) from participating in some small way.

The first few miles of the race were through Bay Ridge, and the route came within a block of our apartment. We got up bright and early to cheer on the racers-- both the elite runners who came first, and the rank-and-file that followed.

The sidewalk were pretty crowded with spectators, and (similar to the Columbus Marathon) bands played every few blocks.

The race started in waves-- a group of runners started about every 20 minutes for an hour. The starting line was on the Staten Island side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, so Paul and I also walked to the shore to watch some of the racers cross the bridge. We could just barely see hundreds and hundreds of heads bob up and down on both the lower and upper levels of the bridge.

I'm not even sure you can see them in the photo below, which shows just how small they actually looked.

After the race had passed through Bay Ridge, Fourth Avenue was littered with water and Gatorade cups, along with a few gloves and other warm-weather gear the runners had shed.

We were also spectators this weekend at another annual event: the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. Afterward we went to Chelsea Market, where the following was displayed. How appropriate!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Three Days 'til E-Day

Tuesday, of course, is Election Day, and I can't wait. Yes, it's a foregone conclusion that New York will go to Obama, but it's fun to see my home state in the spotlight from 600 miles away.

Early on it was apparent that Ohio would once again be a swing state, but who could have anticipated that Joe the Plumber would (unfortunately) become a spokesman for all of us Buckeyes? And while a visit by a presidential candidate to New York City is barely noted, I had fun reading the coverage of McCain's visit to Defiance earlier this week.

Paul still seems to be on the voter rolls in Ohio, and the only robocalls we've gotten have been from the Ohio Republican Party. In fact, he's gotten about a half-dozen absentee-ballot-request forms in the mail. From Ohio. We've gotten no party mailings or phone calls in New York, aside from a few polls about candidates for Congress.

I've heard that the lines will be long in Ohio, and I'm curious to see what it will be like here-- no early voting in New York.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Weather, Here & At Home

Cold weather has arrived.

I awoke in the middle of the night when I heard the heaters kick on. We can't control the heat in our apartment (it's a building-wide system) but the unexpected warmth didn't come a minute too soon. We set up the space heater yesterday, which is all the more sad since we haven't taken out our air conditioner yet.

The weather during our week in Ohio hit both extremes. The high during our first weekend there was about 80 degrees. But the last day began with what I believe was the first frost of the season. But mostly the week was cool and sunny- perfect for taking a few photos around my parents' home:

I took the photos on my last morning in Defiance, when I was already feeling some pre-homesickness about leaving. At home I did the typical vacation activities: shopping, eating, sleeping. But I also spent a lot of time with my parents, grandparents, sister and her new husband.

I once thought Columbus seemed far from home. But at least then I could visit at the last minute or simply for the weekend. Now that it's more of an ordeal, I appreciate the time I spend there even more.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Paul Runs a Marathon!

I'll start at the end.

Paul ran the Columbus Marathon on Sunday in 4 hours 35 minutes. If that isn't impressive enough, his split was about 20 minutes faster than the Brooklyn Half-Marathon he ran in May.

Yes, I'm certainly proud of Paul, but I can't say I understand him. I know that running 26.2 miles is a test of endurance, a goal to strive for. But I could never endure the aches, pains and hours of training. And I guess I only strive for a car with a full tank of gas.

My flight was changed to Sunday evening from Monday daybreak, so I was able to watch Paul try to bend his knees to walk for only a few hours before I had to catch a flight home.

The plane took off an hour late, but worse than that was the trip from the airport to the apartment. Night and weekend trains don't run as often, so between waiting for the bus and three different trains, it took more than two hours to get home-- longer than the flight itself. I already miss how simple things are in Columbus.

Paul returned this afternoon while I was at work (the lucky boy has about twice as many vacation days as I do). More about our Ohio vacation later.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Happy 1 Year Anniversary!

One year and one day. Hard to believe we've been in New York that long already.

Since then I have:
  • mastered the subway system (well enough that I can give tourists directions, in any case)
  • visited Little Cupcake about 40 times (just a guess)
  • figured out which nearby bodegas have the best produce (that took surprisingly long)
  • learned to live without a closet in the bedroom (it's not as bad as you think)
  • learned to live without a washer or dryer (it's just as bad as you think)
Living in New York still feels like a vacation nearly every weekend. A different museum, a different neighborhood, a different restaurant-- there's always something new to discover and explore.

On that note, we're actually spending our vacation next week not in New York, but in Ohio. Of course we're visiting family and friends, and Paul will be running the Columbus Marathon on Oct. 19. So no posts for 10 days or so, but plenty of pics when we return.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tap Water, Please

I drank water from Norway on Saturday. But I didn't want to.

Paul and I went to a sushi place in our neighborhood for supper. Like I do whenever we go out to eat, I asked for a glass of water.

"Sparkling or still?" the waitress asked.

Still, I responded. Though I obviously should have said "tap."

What I got was a $4 water in a sleek glass bottle. A double whammy-- bad financially and bad for the environment.

Anyone who knows me even slightly knows I hate buying water/pop at restaurants, so it almost killed me when we got the bill

I've found that beverages are an even worse deal in New York than in Ohio. At many restaurants around here, refills are *not* complimentary.

Not everyone realizes this, of course. For example, Paul and a friend from out-of-town went out to dinner several months ago. His friend kept asking for refills and ended up paying something like $8 for tea.

Monday, September 22, 2008

My First Celebrity Sighting (Sort Of)

How's this for a random New York experience?

I normally eat lunch on the benches in the Trinity Church cemetery. Today, however, I decided to make my way toward the steps of a nearby building I sometimes sit at instead.

But a large crowd was gathered at the base, and I could see some video cameras at the front. A few more steps and I saw they were all pointed toward Hillary Clinton. And I was about 20 feet away.

She was addressing the cameras and not the crowd, so I couldn't tell what she was saying or why she was there.

I consider this my first "celebrity sighting" in New York. I know, I know-- it would have been more authentic if I just would have passed her randomly in the streets. But I'll take what I can get.

Hillary Clinton: Center Right in Picture (if not in politics)

Monday, September 15, 2008

There Goes the Sun #1

New York is on the far edge of the eastern time zone.

I like the sun waking me up in the morning, but I hate that it gets darker about 30 minutes earlier here than in Ohio. In fact, the sun had already set by the time I got home and exited the subway station after work today.

With that in mind, I'll be unearthing some photos over the next few weeks of New York City in the sun. I'm already counting down the days until next spring.

Here's the first installment:

Central Park, March 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sept. 11 in the City

Working under what used to be the shadow of the World Trade Center towers, I'm confronted with reminders of 9/11 nearly everyday. Today, of course, those reminders were even more poignant.

I stopped at the 9/11 memorial ceremony for about 10 minutes as I walked from the subway to work. I could hear the names of the deceased being read one by one- the entire task was to take the entire morning. The streets were crowded but surprisingly calm. A Mennonite choir sang behind me.

Obama and McCain were supposedly at the ceremony, but it was impossible to get close enough to see anyone or anything. I couldn't even tell for sure where the stage was.

Police officers were everywhere, and it seemed like the bulk of their job was keeping tourists and city-dwellers alike from parading down closed-off streets. Unlike most days, today you couldn't get closer than a block or two from Ground Zero. I tried.

For tonight only, the twin towers of light again shoot skyward from the site of the center. Paul and I walked to Shore Promenade to see the beams against the city skyline. Only when we returned to our apartment did I realize we can also see them from our living room window.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Montreal: Day 3

Last Monday was our last day in Montreal, and all I can say is that it could have been worse.

After one last serving of poutine, we hit the road. I expected the trip home would take longer because of the holiday, but traffic was surprisingly normal. However, we waited 1 hour and 40 minutes in line at the border.

That wasn't the worst of it. We handed the guard our passports and licenses. When she gave them back, we immediately noticed that she didn't give us back Paul's license. We told her this, but she claimed we never gave it to her.

We pulled over and searched the car, even though we knew we had given it to her. No luck finding it, of course. Paul politely approached the guard again, but she continued to claim she never saw it.

We couldn't do anything but continue our drive home and hope it would be found. And -- surprise, surprise -- it was. The second day of our return Paul called the lost and found at the border, it was there. We were relieved- not least of all because Paul wouldn't have to stand in the horrendous line to replace his license.

The drive was uneventful until we got to Manhattan and Brooklyn. It was late -- near 11 -- traffic was heavy, and I think we missed a turn. All in all, the trip home took something like 9 hours.

But, as I said, it could have been worse.

After Paul parked the car and turned off the ignition, we decided to move it back a few inches. But the car wouldn't start. We knew about this problem the week before, but Paul changed the battery and we thought it was fixed. No such luck.

It started fine the next morning. Aggravation!

Here's a few more Montreal photos for your viewing pleasure:

Friday, September 5, 2008

Montreal: Day 2

Like Saturday, we spent Sunday eating, drinking, walking and climbing in no particular order.

First thing in the morning we walked down to the St. Lawrence River port area. And I literally mean we walked down. Montreal is surprising hilly. Me and my non-existent French didn't realize the city was actually named for a (small mountain) in the city.

It was a hot day, and the terraces and decks were crowded with people eating brunch and people-watching. We winded our way through the narrow side streets and even narrower sidewalks looking for a coffee shop.

Instead we sat on bar stools at the window of a small cafe, watching a commercial shoot. We had no idea what they were shooting, and neither did our waitress. Paul guesses a hair-care product. I think it was make-up.

The only place we absolutely wanted to visit in Montreal was the Notre Dame Basilica. I had read that the architect actually converted to Catholicism after creating the church in the 1800's.

I'd rarely seen a Catholic church so colorful. The ceiling was a green-blue with gold stars. The columns had multi-hued designs. And the woodwork at the front of the church was amazing. I didn't get any good photos inside the church, but take a quick look at rotating pictures on the official website. Pay particular attention to the nearly-spiral staircase on the left.

Of course, we also found time for some snacks throughout the weekend. In addition to crepes, we had two additional foodstuffs we wanted to try: bagels and poutine.

Montreal claims its bagels are superior to New York's, but I wouldn't quite go that fair. Montreal's are smaller, denser and sweeter- more like a donut. Definitely tasty, but not what I would call a traditional bagel.

During our short trip, Paul managed to squeeze in two orders of poutine- french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. Not bad, but I'd take a Nutella-filled crepe over that any day.

Late in the afternoon we walked along the river . . .

. . . and happened to come across Montreal's clock tower.

A sign on the door said you could climb on up. There were only 192 steps. So we did.

The steps started out very wide-- room enough for three people or so to climb side by side. About halfway up the stairs narrowed, but there was still plenty of room for two. The last 50 steps, however, was the smallest , narrowest spiral staircase I'd ever seen.

There was barely room for six people at the lookout at the top. But the views were magnificent.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Montreal: Day 1

We spent 6 hours of our fifth wedding anniversary in the car.

That wasn't too romantic, of course, but our destination was. We spent Labor Day weekend in Montreal.

I had never visited a French-speaking locale, and neither of us had been to Quebec. The drive straight north also took us through the Adirondacks, which we also had never seen.

Of course, I booked our room through Priceline, and Paul and I agreed that the Doubletree was one of the better hotels we've stayed at. Mostly because of the view. We could see most of downtown, the St. Lawrence River in the distance, a bridge or two and even the roller coasters of a nearby Six Flags.

I also like Doubletrees because they give you a warm chocolate chip-walnut cookie when you check in. And since Paul is allergic to nuts, I got two. (Of course, I would rather that Paul not be allergic, but sometimes my stomach doesn't mind.)

This trip, much like Maine, was all about the food and microbrews. Crepes were at the top of the list, and I had two the very first day we were there. Usually I opt for crepes filled with Nutella or fruit, but this time I went for the savory. Can't really go wrong either way.

Our hotel was about a block from the Latin Quarter, an area similar to the Short North in Columbus. Lots of restaurants, lots of bars. Paul was pleasantly surprised with the artisanal beer selection. Paul ordered two of the more unique drafts we had ever seen: a ginger beer (yummy in small doses) and a gummy beer (bright green and garnished with a gummy bear).

Montreal was in the middle of a world film fest while we were there, but since neither of us can speak, understand or read French, we didn't pay too much attention to it. But it made for some nice photos.

Absolutely everyone we encountered spoke excellent English. Signs in store windows were obviously in French, but they often had small English translations underneath. It was common to be greeted in restaurants with "Bonjour-Hi" and the server would speak in the language you responded in. Many restaurants also had English menus.

But I also enjoyed trying to use my rusty Spanish to figure out some basic French words. I could read the days of the week and quite a bit of the menu. And some signs didn't need much of a translation.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Dylan's Candy Bar: Photos This Time!

My book club again met at Dylan's Candy Bar, and I again devoured a delicious s'mores cupcake. The only difference this time is that I remembered to get out my camera!

I still can't decide if the stairway has real candy in it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Coney Island at Night

Like even the worst of county fairs, Coney Island looks much less dingy at night. As we walked by Astroland after the Huey Lewis concert Thursday night, the bright lights and neon signs transformed Coney Island into what I had always imagined it to be. If ever a hot dog joint could look magical, Nathan's was it.

Still a line!

The Cyclone: I would ride it again if I didn't want to move my neck for a week.

Coney Island's subway station: Almost classy


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