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.


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