On our way back from our valentine weekend trip to NYC. We have indulged in the ultimate luxury-an Amtrak roomette-and are comfortably ensconced with bread,cheese and olives from the Fairway Market and some Samuel Smith stout yet to be opened. I am alone watching the world go by, though not too fast, while my partner naps in the bunk above. Are we lucky. Yes, we are.
Our trip started with a drive to Syracuse. Not too bad, given the reputation (and reality) of Syracuse weather. The Amtrak lot was packed, and we parked in a spot invented by some nearby cars. First hint of the relatively casual atmosphere of travel by rail. We took our large, allowable carry on inside, and proceeded at once once to the platform to watch the trains go by. It was chilly and snowing, but we lucked out with a freight train AND a snow plow. Our train was late, but not too, and soon we were in the next most awesome thing about trains-roomy comfortable seats! No seat belts! Space to walk around! The company was friendly and relaxed. We departed about 11, so we got to watch upstate turn to downstate as the wind tossed the snow in a convincing imitation of Siberia. We bought lunch in the canteen, and sat there to eat it. Hard to say whether it was an improvement on airplane food, and since we had to pay for it, I have to give it a zero. More experienced than us, some had brought their own snacks and six packs. Though the train was packed, we had no problem getting seats next to each other. I had the seat by the window and took advantage of the opportunity to take photographs of trains passing us by and train yards that we passed by.
We also had Wi-Fi so we were able to use the wonderful gift from our kids of an iPad to see which bridges we were passing by. Mostly this was Mike’s job. There are a lot of bridges along the Selkirk cutoff which runs along the Hudson River, and he named them all. We even passed a personal landmark: The Rhinecliff Hotel in Rhinebeck. It’s been massively renovated since Neon Baptist played unnoticed in the pool room, and has balconies awesomely overlooking the train track.The ride was otherwise uneventful until we got closer to the city, at which point for some reason we became later and later. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was our late start, but somehow we got behind other trains and were never able to pass them. First hour was fairly relaxing. We could spend all day sitting on a train. We commented to ourselves that we rarely sit and certainly never do so while doing nothing. Second hour the complaints began, especially from people who had connections to make. By the third hour, when when the power was off, the lights went out and we stopped just outside of Penn Station, there was general vociferousness. Nonetheless, compared to a late airplane ride where you’re sitting at the gate, it was not too bad. The seats were comfy and the crowd was jovial. There was some speculation that we should prepare for a zombie attack. One group took advantage of the opportunity to hold an impromptu town board meeting. The vote passed on the train, but unfortunately those contacted back home by phone voted nay. Finally we were hooked up to another train, towed into Penn Station and released.
I couldn’t have been happier to take a walk in the cold brisk air of New York City. We walked to our hotel, the Radisson Martinique, where we were in for another surprise. Turns out the night before someone lit a candle and a fire alarm was set off. Two floors had sprinklers turned on. Not only did the floors have to be cleaned out, but airline pilots whose planes were delayed were still in their rooms. It was 7 o’clock, our train had been delayed three hours, and our room wouldn’t be ready until 10. To make up for the inconvenience we were given vouchers for breakfast, two free drinks, and I was presented with a small box of hotel chocolates. All this suited us fine. We checked our bags and headed off to find some refreshments. We had done some research on where we should go in New York, going back-and-forth about all the cool things there were to do-museums, the cloisters, Staten Island. Ultimately, though, we decided to stick to the neighborhood and just relax. Keans Steakhouse was nearby, and we were curious to see it, mostly for the same reason we choose the hotels we do-it’s age. The restaurant was a bit fancy for our dinner plans that evening, but the good scotch in the bar hit the spot. After that we took a long walk around the neighborhood, and yes, we walked through Times Square. Sort of like Disneyland with less to do…
On the fringes we did make the acquaintance of an Egyptian fellow named Sam who had the late night food cart shift, and dinner was served. Finally back to our hotel room, where we flopped down on the bed and considered spending the rest of our trip just lying there. How come good hotel beds are SO good?
The next morning we treated our daughter and her boyfriend to a free, if crowded, breakfast buffet. Then we toured the Martinique,which opened in 1910 as a Beaux Arts style hotel for rail travelers, became a short-term shelter for low income families, and ended up a restored landmark hotel. Skip the elevator, the stairs alone are worth the trip.
Back in our room, Ben presented us with a bottle of cider he had brought back from France (how appropriate), and we decided to look for a small museum within walking distance. For some reason, my choice of ancient manuscripts and Gutenberg bibles at The Morgan Museum was voted down in favor of the Discovery TSX Art of the Brick show. First, though, my daughter and I wanted to shop for clothes, but not for very long, so we all went to one of her favorite shops. Just as she said, once I found my size and style, I was able to pick the same thing in two more colors have done with it. Mike bought a jacket and in less than an hour we were done. Serendipitously, on our way Ben was handed a discount coupon for the show.
No doubt Nathan Sawaya can lay some brick. Ignoring the reservations a serious 10 year old lego fanatic might have about whether gluing them in place is cheating, I though the reproductions of great art work, particularly stained glass done with translucent bricks, showed great skill. Was it art? I couldn’t say. The original pieces were not as inspiring as the copies (a room complete with a table, a giant pencil, human figures), though I did like the Halloween inspired skulls. But then, I’m a sucker for Halloween.
Just as cool as the show was the fact that it was located in the basement of the old New York Times building (ergo Times Square-how did I never get that?), where the presses used to be. As I once had ambitions to be a press person, and in fact was an apprentice at the Ithaca Journal, I was particularly thrilled. We also have a fondness for old industrial buildings, thus much photographing of the bits of it that remain.
Obviously by now we were ready for lunch, and quickly found ourselves snuggled in the comfy couches of The Ginger Man. I don’t know if we had plans to have a quick lunch and on to new adventures, but what we actually did was sit and talk and eat and drink for hours. It was an awesome treat.The kids went home for a nap (jet lag for Ben), and we did the same. That evening we considered the ultimate luxury-room service-but curiosity drove us out again. Just not very far. The Martinique Cafe has a nice atmosphere, windows on the street, and accepted our coupons for free drinks. And the food was delicious. After that another walk was required, though this time we avoided Times Square.
Monday was our last day. After checking out in a leisurely,
vacation-like fashion, we took our bags to Penn Station and checked them, then went for coffee. We then had plans to meet our daughter for lunch. Since it was a holiday for most folks, she was able to give us tour of her office at B Squared . We even got a tour of the press room (the trip theme) and saw the new printer they have to print on “things”. Her co-workers seemed very nice, and her boss told her proud parents he would like to have 20 of her, which is about 19 more than we care to have ourselves…
After taking her out to lunch, we still had some time to walk around and get some air before our train left. This is when we picked up the food at Fairway. We hardly had a wait at Penn Station, just enough time for me to wander off without my cell phone just as the train was announced, mix up my left and right on the way back, and make my husband very nervous. Back where this blog started, we settled into our roomette. If you haven’t traveled this way, you have really missed something. Chatting, lounging and eating our way home, it would have been perfect if I hadn’t tried to write, gotten a bit queasy, and almost blogged all over my iPad. A stroll in the cold at Albany-Rensselaer station took care of that.
In Syracuse, a discussion we had on the drive down came back to haunt us. We had contemplated how amazing it is that anyone gets anywhere, considering what can go wrong, like missed connections and accidents. Two hundred years ago no one would embark on a journey from Willseyville to Syracuse without due precautions for dangers along the way, and we hop in the car and drive off with hardly a thought. Or a shovel for the snow… Or a check of the tires air level…
Fortunately the tire wasn’t so flat that we couldn’t drive to the nearest truck stop, guided by the modern technology of the GPS. Although the air pump was almost completely buried in snow, we were able to get to it without a shovel. Good weather for the drive home completed a trip whose potential disasters and stumbling blocks were transformed into adventures and explorations.