Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Travelogue Part 2: New York, New York!!

Hello everyone,

Right now I am pondering on the pointlessness of writing this particular update. Assuming that people WANTED to hear about our trip to New York in the first place is one thing, but to imagine that there would be any still interested in reading an account of the trip two months after the fact is really quite presumptuous. Nonetheless, history must be recorded, and so I will write on.

I left off my last account as we left Boston on Sunday, August 5th for our 4 hour drive to New York. After numerous turnpike tolls and an inexplicable number of Sunday afternoon drivers causing massive traffic jams, we eventually made it out of Massachusetts. We stopped at a rest stop during our stop and go traffic. Oddly enough, there were a HUGE number of cars parked there. It turns out that this was not just any rest stop-- it was the "we will turn your potty break into a souvenir and fast food extravaganza!" rest stop. It was a huge complex with stores and multiple restaurants that was jam-packed with people. I guess we figured out what Massachusetts folk do on a Sunday afternoon: they go for a lovely, slow drive in traffic and then pick up an "Auntie Anne's" pretzel at a mega-rest-stop.

We did eventually make it to New York. No sooner did we catch a glimpse of the miles of skyscrapers in the distance, when I started chanting, "I love New York!!! I'm so excited!" But before we could enjoy ourselves, there were perils to be braved. I courageously volunteered to brave New York traffic and so led our expedition into the city. Here we encountered yet another unique driving experience. Instead of randomly wandering paved cow-paths, there were streets that were 5 or 6 lanes wide, filled with cars changing lanes at a moment's notice and honking at you if you did not know exactly where you were going. Despite the perils, we eventually found our way to our lodging: a little place in the East Village called 2nd Home on 2nd Avenue, nestled on the 3rd and 4th floors above a yoga studio. Reviews of the place said the rooms were nice and the prices were great, so we found ourselves in front of an unlabeled red door that led up two flights of stairs to the inn. Our room was indeed very nice, but part of the deal for getting cheap lodging in NY was having a tiny shared bathroom down the hall from our room. Yes, more adventure! I sat in the car while mom and Alisa checked in and then we went off to return our rental car.

The car didn't need to be returned for a couple of hours, so I decided to take mom and Alisa on an impromptu driving tour of New York City. The combination of me darting in and out of lanes in New York City and the worry that we wouldn't get our rental car returned in time raised mom's blood pressure quite a bit. Mom finally convinced me that it was time to return it and then we faced a very perplexing task: finding a gas station in Manhattan. Mom had the brilliant idea of rolling down our windows and asking the cab driver next to us at the stoplight. Unfortunately the percentage of cab drivers who speak English well enough to be intelligible over traffic noise is few and far between, so it took us a couple of tries before we finally met with success. We finally found a gas station (in the bottom floor of a multi-story building, of course) and triumphantly returned our car--without the car or us damaged. Then we set off to a subway station to buy a pass and head back.

Unfortunately, we went into a station that only had uptown trains. We went back up and crossed the street to get to the station with downtown trains, but our subway passes wouldn't work. The lady at the counter explained that you have to wait 20 minutes before you can use your pass again at the same station. So we stood there in the subway station, watching trains come and go, for 20 minutes before we finally could board a train downtown. Standing in a hot, musty, un-air-conditioned, interesting-smelling subway station for 20 minutes in August is not my idea of fun, but it passed soon enough and we made it home.

Monday morning we set off on our first day of adventure. We had a delicious breakfast at Noho Star-- where Alisa and I shared Brioche French Toast and Goat Cheese Scrambled Egg Bruschetta with Pesto and Sun-Dried Tomatoes (yes, this is the NY I'm talking about!). Then we set off to meet Marissa Ereksen (one of our mutual friends from the music program at BYU). After we met up we walked around Soho for a while. We especially enjoyed the gourmet market Dean and Deluca where we got to sample $30 sea salt with truffles and admire cupcakes with frosting dahlias on the top and intricate 1" marzipan animals that sold for $6 each.

After getting our fill of window shopping, we set off to see Grand Central Terminal. Then we took a train uptown to get a hot dog. Yes, a hot dog (but it's Julia Child's favorite hot dog). After braving the heat of the tiny un-air-conditioned Papaya King, we enjoyed our delectable hot dogs and had some of the weird fruit drinks they make. Mom managed to spend $10 (at a $1.50 hot dog store) trying to get food that would meet the requirements of her food plan-- and she still had to get more vegetables after that. =] (Sorry, mom, I just had to make fun of that.) After our hot dog stop, we took the subway back to midtown and did a little walking tour. We went through the Parker Meridian Hotel and saw Carnegie Hall before we came to that most incredible of all NY destinations: the Steinway store. Yes, we spent a leisurely hour or two reveling in the beautiful instruments surrounding us and playing pianos that cost more than a small house. It was heaven on earth.

After our stop at this sacred mecca, we headed for a whirlwind tour of downtown: Wall Street, Federal Hall (site of Washington's inauguration), Trinity Church (National Treasure, anyone?), the World Trade Center site, St. Paul's Chapel and, of course, Century 21 department store. Then we got on the subway to Brooklyn, to get a pizza of course. But not just any pizza-- New York's best pizza at Grimaldi's. After devouring our delicious basil and ricotta pizza, we went down to the pier and got AMAZING ice cream from Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and enjoyed the beautiful view of Manhattan and the Brooklyn bridge. Then we were back on the subway to get Marissa back to the bus terminal in time to catch her bus back to D.C.

By this time it was very late and mom was about to starve. Unfortunately for her food plan, the only thing they sold at Grimaldi's was pizza, root beer, wine and beer. Sorry, not even a salad. So mom still had not eaten. We got her a fabulous (if somewhat belated) dinner at Better Burger before embarking on a night tour of Times Square, Herald Square, walking by the Empire State Building and going to Walgreens. By the time we got home we collapsed in absolute exhaustion.

Tuesday morning dawned hot and humid. After catching a quick breakfast, we were off again. At this point in our trip, we found that there was a slight difference in travel strategy between mom and I. My idea of "conquering New York" was seeing as many sites, art museums, and eating at as many cool restaurants as you possibly can in the allotted time. Mom's idea of conquering New York consisted of conquering Macy's-- all 9 floors. Well, we had to compromise: our tour was short on art museums and mom only got to conquer 7 of the 9 floors, but all in all we worked it out well. Mom spent several hours at Macy's helping Alisa resurrect her post-mission wardrobe, while I wandered about randomly (clothes shopping is far less entertaining when you're pregnant). By the time I could convince mom that we REALLY didn't need to see the last two floors of Macy's it was well after lunchtime.

We decided to go to somewhere close to our apartment and so went to Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill. But--- it closed about 5 minutes before we got there. After unsuccessfully trying to find an alternate venue for our meal, we took a cab to a teeny Mexican place called Itzocan that was fairly close to our apartment. It was rated a 24/30 for food in the Zagat guide, but when we got there it was well past lunchtime and were the only ones there. We sat in the kitchen-sized restaurant, ordered our food and waited.... and waited... and waited. Here I started to get frustrated. I was responsible for choosing this place and we waited for an interminable 45 minutes in a not-so-snazzy-looking hole-in-the-wall, wasting away our afternoon when we could be seeing more sites....... and then our food came. Pan-roasted stuffed chicken breast with goat cheese, vegetables and red mole sauce, a quesadilla with shredded beef, mushrooms, baby greens and cheese (THE best Mexican food I have ever had) and a quesadilla with pumpkin flower, chicken and monterey jack cheese. Some things are worth waiting for-- even in NY.

We went back to our place and got ready to go to a broadway show that night. Of course "on the way" there we went to Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral and then walked by Radio City Music Hall and NBC Studios. Then we saw a performance of "Wicked"-- it was so good. Afterward we across the street to Thalia and had a very lovely but overpriced dinner-- we were quite shocked that the mushroom ravioli was actually better than the fancy beef dish. After our expensive and stylish meal, mom still hadn't filled the requirements of her food plan, so we took a train to the upper west side to Cafe Mozart, where mom got a very healthy green salad and fruit and Alisa and I had the other wonder of New York: Vesuvius Dessert (brownie crust with layers of chocolate mousse, chocolate cheesecake, chocolate ganache and whipped cream---mmmmm). Then we walked by Lincoln Center and the NY temple before taking the subway home.

On Wednesday we woke up at 5 am to the sound of New York being bombed. It turns out that we were not under attack-- it was only VERY LOUD thunder, lightning and pouring rain. By the time we woke up again it was clear and sunny and hot: 95 degrees with 97% humidity-- no that is not a typo. We went in the subway station to take a train uptown to the art museums, but before long we figured out that that particular subway line was closed because of flooding. As a result, huge crowds of people-- including us-- were herded through the station with people squeezed to the very edge of the platform-- not for the claustrophobic. We finally took an alternate line and got breakfast on the way to see Central Park and the Frick Collection. We walked through part of Central Park and got to the Frick only to find out that it was opening an hour late due to transportation delay. We didn't have enough time to wait around, but hey-- no prob-- we'd just take a taxi to the Met instead. Unfortunately, we looked and looked and no free taxi was to be found anywhere. We started to get worried about making it home and making our taxi to the airport in two hours, so we went back to 5th avenue to catch a taxi or bus. There was not a single taxi free, the buses were jam-packed with people and there was extremely heavy stop-and-go traffic. We timed ourselves and found that we were actually walking faster than buses. We popped in to see Tiffany's on our way back to the subway, took a circuitous route home and did indeed make our taxi to the airport. Our caution and haste were wasted, since we ended up waiting forever at the LaGuardia terminal (more Sudoku, anyone?). We did finally leave LaGuardia, got some yummy Mexican food on our stopover in the Chicago airport and made it back to the Bay Area, where we went to get Alisa officially released as missionary and then were home again.
Thus began the Rogers Family Reunion: all of the Rogers siblings/spouses/cousins were together for the first time in about two years. In the next few days, Dave flew in from Portland, David and Leah and their family flew in from Texas and Martin and Lindsay drove up from LA where they were working for the summer. We put together a family musical number for Alisa's homecoming and Alisa gave a great talk.

Then Monday morning we were off to Sly Park, a campground at Jenkinson Lake in the Lake Tahoe area. We set off in the motor-home and minivan on a 3-hour drive to rest and relaxation, towing two sailboats behind us. I was particularly excited about this part of the vacation: Dave was taking time off work and there would be no internet connection or cell phone coverage. Yes!! We got to Sly Park and set up camp at an awesome campsite right on the lakefront.

At this point, I started to realize that it had been several years since I had actually been camping. There were no flush toilets-- only spacious wooden outhouses inhabited by germs and flies. The campsites, while very beautiful with lake views, were covered in a fine layer of dirt that instantly covered anything it touched. We hadn't been there five minutes before Camryn was sitting in the dirt and playing in it like sand. I started to become very tense, envisioning a week of taking dirt-blackened children to germ-covered potties. I realized that this was not going to be a very fun trip if I spent my time being germ-phobic and picturing ruined outfits, so I decided to accept the fact that everything that we brought-- kids included-- was going to be covered in dirt for the next few days and IT WOULD BE FINE. And it was.

And so we had a great trip. There's not a whole lot to write about. We sat in the lake on floaties, lay in the sun on the shore, went sailing on one of Nate's boats, ate yummy food at camp, roasted marshmallows on the fire, played cards or watched a movie in the motor-home at night and then repeated the next day. It turns out that we did have cell phone coverage at camp, but we didn't feel that it was necessary to disclose this particular detail to Dave's office. =]

We managed to have two minor adventures at camp. We attracted huge swarms of bees every time we made food. Dave and I set out one morning to buy yellow-jacket traps and also came back with a bug zapper-- a tool shaped like a small tennis racket that would zap a bug with an electric shock when you hit it. It became the popular new sport of the trip-- to see who could zap the most bees and flies at lunchtime. One of Nate's boats capsized on the last day of camp-- with Dave and Leah inside it. Luckily Dave and Leah fared better than the boat-- which needed some major repairs afterward.

We drove back to Milpitas on Thursday. I spent Friday taking an afternoon on the town with Jen (Dave's sister who was staying with my parents for the summer) while Dave caught up on work stuff. We spent a lovely afternoon and evening touring the Stanford Art Museum (which I am ashamed to say I never saw the inside of in the entire four years we were at Stanford--despite it being only a 1/2 mile away), getting dinner at a cafe and taking Jen our her very first trip to Trader Joe's (grocery shopping will never be the same again). Saturday we drove back to Portland, arriving back at 1:00 am. And Monday morning Dave was off on a plane to a conference in Hawaii (I know, work can be so tough).

And there I will leave you, coming back at some point to write the exciting conclusion..... Hopefully in less than a year after the fact... =]


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