Monday, 25 June 2012

DC & New York: V

The first thing I noticed in New York was the noise. All the negative reviews about our DC hotel on Trip Adviser had complained that it was so noisy, being near a railway and a highway. But we’d gone from the outskirts of DC to mid-town Manhattan, and the noise was definitely more noticeable. Fortunately we are used to living in cities, and the night-long sounds of traffic and garbage collectors were not much worse than the constant bin-collecting rumble of the Cambridge garbage men who tend to favour 7am as their time for making excessive amounts of noise on their tri-weekly collections. So, I slept like a baby and didn’t wake up until the sun was streaming into the bright apartment.

We got up later than we had been, but still at a fairly decent time for vacationers. David kindly obliged to make breakfast for me while I did some stretches to try to loosen up my pulled muscles. Then I got to feast on fried eggs and American bacon. My North American friends perhaps have no idea just how significant this is. English bacon, whether regular (ie back bacon) or streaky (ie ‘american’) tastes nothing like the bacon we get back home. This isn’t to say that it’s bad, but it’s cured differently, cut differently, and uses more salt. To be able to breakfast on thin and crispy, melt-in-your-mouth pieces of bacon (David is an expert bacon fryer), with some toasted rye bread and an egg fried just the way I like it was perfection. It was also great to have real cooked food again, after four days of hotel “everything white flour” breakfasts.

Eventually we packed up and went out. The plan for the day was to do some sightseeing, followed by meeting up with a friend of ours from the University of Toronto. I learned quickly that my time navigating the DC metro put me in an excellent position to figure out how to buy tickets for the New York subway. But the NYC Subway is a completely different beast to any mass transit system I have ever been on. I naively assumed that it would be no worse than trying to get around London via the tube, which really isn’t that bad once you identify the colour of your line. However, in New York I had to contend with colours, numbers, and letters. So it took us about an hour longer than it should have to get to Coney Island.

Near the end of our journey.
Apparently the amusement park is right behind me, but the glare from the sun was too much to get it in the photo.

The wind was working itself into a temper, so our trip to the island was a little disorienting. Our first stop was Nathan’s Famous, because it seemed like a shame to come all the way to New York without trying a hotdog, and where better to get one of those odious things from than the place that first made them. It was too windy to eat outside, so we huddled in the overcrowded food joint, eating our hotdogs and finding them palatable. I really hate hotdogs, and Nathan’s certainly didn’t win me back to the dark side (then again, if Costco’s kosher dog can’t win me back then nothing can) but they weren’t bad. If you like that sort of thing. Although I think the Orange Julius bacon & cheese dog which my parents used to buy me on Sundays is a superior dog.

We took our chips down to the beach, wandering by the ‘abandoned’ amusement park on the way and watching the wind whip up little tornadoes of dust and garbage. David kept calling for the Warriors, but none of them came. Then we just sat and enjoyed the sand, wind, and water for a bit. We don’t live that far from the coast in England, but it’s far enough away that we never get there. So it was really nice to be back at the ocean.

We strolled along the beach, looking at shells and dodging the sand storms, until the wind got too much and we had to retreat to the boardwalk. There is a large Russian community in Brighton Beach, along the boardwalk, so we went down there to see if we could score any delicious treats. David noticed that there seemed to be a lot of Russian pensioners sitting out on doorstops, watching the world go by, so we marked it down as a possible activity to keep my parents occupied in their golden years. Then we came to the crowded streets of the Brighton markets, which were a jumble of everything—groceries, Russian food, cash for gold, nail salons... We ducked into a Russian toy shop and looked at strange Russian speaking toys (I was tempted to buy one for the baby but David was a bit worried about the soviet-era materials) and then went into an Eastern European deli, where we scored some gingery honey cookies (from Israel, not Russia, alas!) for the long trip back to Manhattan.

Our afternoon was spent wandering around Greenwich Village and the East Village. Some stops were planned, and others were impromptu. The one place I was set on going to was Murray’s Cheese, where we wandered around the aisles and indulged our foodie senses. It wouldn’t have done to be overly greedy, and pregnancy has somewhat limited my gastronomic delights, so we restrained ourselves to a sizable chunk of peppered sheep’s milk cheese (so good!) and pretzel buns.

By this time it was getting quite late in the day, so if my memory serves correctly (and it may not as we kept having to make last minute changes) we began our walk to The Strand. The Strand is this amazing used and antiquarian bookstore which takes up at least four stories and is a good place to drop David off at for an afternoon. Being seasoned book collectors, we went straight to the top floor to scope out their antiquarian and rare books. By this time my body was ready for a rest and so I spent an hour or so sitting in a cozy leather chair while David slowly made his way around the shelves. David has an uncanny knack for book collecting, and as long as he knows which authors I’m interested in he always manages to find something special for me if there is something special to be found. This time it was a signed copy of one of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novel The Firebrand (she may be more familiar to some as the author of the Mists of Avalon). This was a huge find, as the author is no longer living and her more main-stream popularity never really took off until Mists of Avalon, meaning that affordable signed copies are few and far between. Once David had finished browsing the top floor we had just enough time to run through the fiction/sci-fi/fantasy sections downstairs. For the first time in my life I found myself actually facing an abundance of books by the authors I’m collecting. Difficult decisions were made, but in the end I emerged victorious with some more Zimmer Bradley and also a novel by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (I can almost never find her books in the stores). The trip to The Strand is of note for one other reason—David’s fairly certain that this is the first time that I’ve purchased more books than he has!

When we left the bookstore it was time to meet up with our Will, a good friend and fellow PIMS committee member from our U of T days. Will took us out to Astoria, where he lives, and we got to meet his roommate and hung out at his place chatting for an hour or so. It was just like old times, except there was no wine involved! I love friendships where you can meet up after three years and it’s like nothing’s changed. Then he took us to this Indian place where we had a delicious, and very spicy, curry meal. I ordered the vindaloo, which various waiters kept trying to convince me out of having. But I stuck with it. And damn, was it ever hot. I ended up just fishing the meat out of the sauce. Still, I’m glad I stuck with it—yes, about as hot as I could handle, but so worth the pain because it had a good depth of flavour behind the heat and it’s just so rare to get good spicy food in England. For starters we all had a curried butternut squash soup, and I also indulged with a mango lassi. Love curry!

All too soon, it was time to say goodnight. After many assurances that we wouldn’t likely get mugged on the subway, Will dropped us off and I navigated us back to Manhattan where we spent the last hour of the day watching Seinfeld episodes on the TV and making comments about watching shows set in New York while in New York. Not geeky at all.

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