I live, I learn, I travel, I write.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring Break: DC Revisited

Like last year, I used my spring break as an opportunity to visit one of my dearest and oldest friends, Lauren. The thing about the DC area is that it's really amazing. It's just a really great city with so much going on what seems like all the time. Also, it wasn't 30 degrees, unlike Michigan at the beginning of March. Also, it's relatively cheap to get there--especially if you fly into Baltimore (BWI) and take a train the rest of the way. So that's what I did.

Seriously, it's like $100-200 cheaper than flying into Dulles, and the train ride from BWI to Union Station in DC is only $7. Anyway, Lauren met me at Union Station and we went back to her apartment to chill out for a bit and plan our day out.

After we sat around for an hour or two, we decided to just go on a walk and eventually make our way over to the new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial. It was pretty cool, although I only took one picture of it for whatever reason.

We headed back to Lauren's apartment afterward to get ready before heading over to see Julia Nunes at the Red Palace, which, as it turns out, has really good happy hour specials. Before going to the venue, though, we got some amazing ramen at Toki Underground. But seriously, it was so delicious. If you're ever in DC and craving some Eastern deliciousness, don't limit yourself to Chinatown. This place was absolutely top-notch.

If you don't know Julia Nunes at all, then 1) you probably don't know me personally and 2) she's a Youtube-based musician and plays guitar and ukulele. She's really fun:

There were two bands that went on before her, both from the area. I don't remember the name of either of them, but the first one was pretty good. They played some poppy folky countryish songs, and it was cute. The second band... um, well, they were talented. Unfortunately, they just sang variations of the same heartbreak-inspired songs with ominous chord progressions in minor keys for like 40 minutes. Also, they had three guitarists. Why? Anyway, Julia Nunes was amazing. I sang along to literally every song. Actually, the dude standing next to Lauren and I (who I bonded with as we both sang along to First Impressions) came up to me after her set was over to tell me that if "there was an award for best fan," it would go to me (since I was singing really loudly to, again, literally every song), and that I wasn't annoying (though the people who were standing in front of me would probably disagree), but I added to the ambience. Well, thank you, sir.

OH! And I met her.

The next day, Lauren and I crossed nature off the list and went to Arlington, stopping first at the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, which has its own island. We just walked around the island and took the nice day in.

We tried to find a pub or something to go to in Arlington, but it was a little early and not much was open (hold your judgment, I was on vacation).Instead we walked across the river to Georgetown and perused around the area. Georgetown is really nice--and really expensive. We ended up stopping at Kafe Leopold, which was a really cute bistro sort of place with outdoor seating.

That night we stayed in with the comfort of soul food and gin and RENT. We spent Sunday afternoon at the zoo (which was free!):

We followed up the zoo by catching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Pt. 1 on TV, and then watching Workaholics and random videos on Youtube. This is why Lauren and I are best friends. Oh, then we saw the Lorax and got shamrock shakes from the Chinatown McDonalds. Sunday well spent.

Of course, Monday came next and I had to head back to Michigan. But not before lunch at the DC location of Bobby Flay's Burger Palace, which was just as excellent as you'd expect. Plus, a vanilla-caramel-bourbon milkshake? Okay.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

#teamtourist, pt. 5: Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and a brief stop in Rural Pennsylvania

It was our last full day in New York, and I have to say... I think we ended on a good note. We hopped on a PATH train back to the Financial District, and ventured off to find the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, stopping at Battery Park briefly before we walked along the water to the ferry line.

We grabbed a snack from a food cart, bought our tickets, and hopped on the ferry, and we were Statue of Liberty bound. It was a good experience, I think, but I thought Ellis Island was a lot more interesting. But we were good tourists and took all of it in.

After walking around the statue a bit, we got back on the ferry to Ellis Island to check out a landmark for immigration in the United States. It was all really compelling, and I think we spent about three hours at the museum.

When we decided we'd had our fill of history for the day, we got on the ferry and headed back to the Financial District. We found an amazing pizza place, had dinner, and set out again for the next par of our evening. We found a table in the park near New York City Hall, and played Phase Ten for an hour or two.

We ended our night at an Irish pub for a drink before retreating back to New Jersey. It was a fun night and a great way to conclude our time in New York City.

The next morning we checked out of the Howard Johnson and began our 11 hour trek back to Michigan. It took like nine hours to get through Pennsylvania, but we made it a bit more worth the while when we stopped at Big Pocono State Park to see some nature in rural Pennsylvania. We weren't totally sure what to expect from this park (we just kind of got the idea from the internet), but were pleasantly surprised when we found ourselves at the top of a mountain!

We made it back to Michigan in one piece, and I'm sure we were all glad to sleep in our own beds after a week of being on vacation. I had an amazing time with some of my best and oldest friends--it was an excellent way to end my summer. I realized that, although I enjoyed New York, I'm not much of a city person. It was fun to visit, but I know that deep down, I'm a country or suburb kind of guy at heart. And I kind of like it that way.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

#teamtourist, pt. 4: Brooklyn, Ground Zero, Ft. Wadsworth, and the Empire State Building

Sunday was a pretty glum day--we woke up late, got ready late, and headed into the city late... plus it was raining all day. I suppose that after having a successful trip thus far, it was only a matter of time before we had an off sort of day. But we proceeded, this time with Brooklyn as our destination. We had every intention of going to the Brooklyn Brewery, but due to the trains being delayed by the rain, we didn't make it to Brooklyn until after it had closed. We walked across the street to a vintage clothing store and browsed around for a bit, but left empty-handed to find a bar, and walked into Soft Spot when we saw they had 2-for-1 wells as their special for the evening. We hung around there for a few hours and then decided to go head back to Newark to plan the next few days.

On Monday we took the PATH train to the financial district to check out the World Trade Center area and Ground Zero. It was under construction for the 10th anniversary memorial to open a month later, so there wasn't much to see other than the preview site down the road. It was really crazy following the timeline of how everything happened on that day 10 years ago--and it's really admirable how New Yorkers got through it as well.

Just down the road from Ground Zero is Wall Street, so we decided to walk past the New York Stock Exchange and take in the craziness of the financial district.

We walked down to the water to talk about what we wanted to do for the rest of our trip. As most people would know or guess, New York City is not a cheap trip... so we decided to cut our trip short and leave on Wednesday rather than Friday. We decided that there were two things we had to do while we were still on vacation: go to the Empire State Building at night, and visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The evening was supposed to be clear, so we'd hit the Empire State Building Monday night, and do the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on Tuesday afternoon. In the meantime, though, we thought we'd hop on the free ferry to Staten Island and check out what it had to offer.

We hopped on a bus to go to Fort Wadsworth and take in some history in an otherwise fairly suburban part of New York. We had some trouble finding the fort itself, until we walked out onto the beach and ran into a local who guided us in the right direction.

It was getting late, so we began our venture to mid Manhattan and then to the Empire State Building. I don't have a whole lot to say about the Empire State Building aside from the line was long (but it moved quickly!), and the view was really incredible. It was cold, but it after a pretty hot week in New York I didn't totally mind.

Next: Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and a bit of rural Pennsylvania.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

#teamtourist, pt. 3: Manhattan revisited (Midtown area and Central Park)

And then it was Saturday. We wanted to check out Grand Central Station, so we hopped on the train back to Manhattan, and switched over to another line to take us there. The station was huge and beautiful, but we had a long day ahead of us, so we headed outside in the direction of the United Nations headquarters. Britney and Lauren went in for a tour, so Dave and I just hung out outside and found a shaded spot to just chill out for a bit.

Afterwards we headed to Central Park to spend the afternoon. I knew that Central Park was a major tourist location, but I had no idea how huge it really was. It was a really beautiful place; there was so much youth and spirit throughout the area. I think that Central Park may have been my favorite part of the time in NYC. We found a spot in the middle of the park to sit in for a while, and watched a Model UN group play an icebreaker game (which involved a variation of Duck-Duck-Goose costumes, and consuming odd mixtures).

It was getting to be around dinner time, so we started out of the park and decided to have a little bit of fun by visiting a pop culture location: McGee's, which is the bar that MacLaren's in How I Met Your Mother is based off of. Aside from having good food and apartments above the bar, though, there were pretty much no similarities. It was maybe a bit disappointing, but I'm glad we went. And they have an 8 hour happy hour!

Next: Ground Zero, Staten Island, Ft. Wadsworth, and the Empire State Building.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

#teamtourist, pt. 2: Manhattan

After our evening and morning in Pittsburgh, we began our six hour journey across the Pennsylvania, which is pretty much just mountains and greenery. Don't get me wrong--Pennsylvania is beautiful, and we made it a point to stop on the way back to Michigan, but those six hours were pretty monotonous in terms scenery from being stuck in a car for one-fourth of a day. But we made it fun.

We got to Newark pretty much when we expected to, and we unloaded at our Howard Johnson hotel. Classy, I know. But it was about $100 cheaper nightly than anywhere I found in the city that was manageable. And it was cheap to take the train into NYC from Newark, so we opted for the New Jersey alternative. And, to be completely honest, the Ho-Jo was totally fine. The staff was nice, our room was clean, and we had air conditioning. Really can't be beat in my mind.

Our first night was pretty lackluster; we just went into Newark to a place called Krug's Tavern for a huge, delicious burger and a pitcher or two of Blue Moon (thanks Google Maps for the recommendation!). Then we headed back to the Ho-Jo for some planning, drinking, and Phase Ten.

The next day was our first day in the city. We took the train into Manhattan and, after opting to save the Empire State Building for a later date, we went to Bryant Park. We took a seat for a while, and then realized the New York Public Library was just around the block, so we headed there.

We then started in the general direction of the Museum of Modern Art, but stopped by St. Patrick's Cathedral first to see a beautiful, old church in still in the heart of this city. I'm not a particularly religious person, but being in old churches like this is somehow really moving; there's something surreal about being somewhere that so many people have poured their faith into and that has probably touched so many lives.

We ended our day with a visit to the Museum of Modern Art for free Friday nights. We were there for about three hours before Dave and I were "art-ed out," and so we walked back through Manhattan to Penn Station to call it a night. But not before getting some street vendor food and making a brief stop on Times Square for a group photo!

Next: Grand Central Station, UN Headquarters, Central Park, and McGee's.