Category Archives: USA

Last Day in New York

Yellow forsythia covered in snow outside a brick building

Forsythia covered in snow in Astoria, NYC.

We didn’t sleep well our last night in New York, and awoke groggy on a day that matched our mood: grey, rainy, and cold. Matt put me in charge of day planning, so I began researching cafes and indoor gardens. I wanted to find something low key to do on our last day in New York!

We settled on the Natural History Museum. It was indoors, pay-what-you-can, had a planetarium for Matt, a butterfly garden for me, and was next to the Central Park Conservatory Gardens. Also, it came highly recommended to me by my friend Caitlin.

Photo of a crystal glass of orange juice

Glass of orange juice at Astoria Provisions

I voted we go to Astoria Provisions for our last breakfast in New York. I had thoroughly enjoyed our first breakfast there – it was a wonderful little place. So, once we’d showered, packed our bags, and tidied our AirBnB room, we trudged our into the rain.

I ordered an egg benny on a biscuit with ham and hash brown potatoes. It was very good! Matt had scrambled eggs with rye bread and salmon. We both had two cups of coffee and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. We both felt better after a good meal.

Photo of a circle cut into concrete in the wall dividing the subway tracks. Behind it, a person is seen stepping off the stairs.

Track level in the subway in Astoria, NYC

Museum Way

When we exited the subway, we were greeted by a bustling crowd of children and wet umbrellas. There was a lineup all the way down the street to get into the museum! Apparently everyone else in NY had the same idea.We reviewed our alternative options. The Guggenheim was across the park and would involved more walking through the rain with our baggage. The Museum of Sex was back the way we’d come and the film museum was a distance away. We poked our nose into the New York Society Museum, but didn’t fancy paying $21 USD for an exhibit of the Vietnam War.

Matt proposed we go for a drink. I did a Google and saw a pub with an intriguing name: the Dead Poet Pub. So we steered our dripping directions in that direction.

Photo of the Dead Poet menu by a cap and a pint

Matt reviewing his options at the Dead Poet

Dead Poet Pub

The Dead Poet Pub was long and thin. Everything on the wall and the staff’s t-shirts were printed backward so you could read them in the mirror behind the bar. The menus were bound between the covers of vintage poetry books.Our waitress was from Kentucky. She was very friendly, attentive, yet non-intrusive – just how we like it! There was free popcorn too, which I happily munched away on while I nursed a $4 local lager. Matt tried a couple different local beers as we watched the world outside the window, rain drops dripping down the glass. Little dogs in coats bopped on by, tails high despite the gloom, happy to be out on an afternoon walk.

Photo of blue clouds at sunset

View from the plane window on our way home

Journey Home to Toronto

We took public transit to the airport. Matt and I held hands on the platform, waiting for our subway homebound as I sung a little ditty titled “Matt and Nell lost in New York”. (Fortunately we didn’t get too lost on our way of the city this time around)

LGA Airport

LGA Airport was spread out and a bit confusing. They definitely needed a better way finding system put in place here! Once we finally found the West Jet counter, we were greeted by the friendliest airport clerk I have ever encountered! Apparently she had a colleague they called Nell as her French name was apparently unpronounceable! Apparently the scanners at this airport don’t do well with mobile tickets like we had, so she printed us two paper tickets and checked our bags. We then bumbled our way into the security line. It was long but moved at a comfortable pace.

Crust

There was no airport lounge for West Jet cardholders, so we scoped out our food options. We ended up at Crust where I got a fruit smoothie and avocado toast for $5.80 a piece. Each table had iPads you’d order from, payment station, and charging stations. I felt like I was in a casino!

When our food came, we were given a metal fork and a plastic knife to eat with. Ridiculous how we must be forced to eat with plastic utensils at airports and take off our shoes to go through customs because of one or two people… but America won’t do anything about gun control. Meanwhile, there’s another shooting flashing across the television screens as I feebly cut my toast with a flimsy knife. I can’t comprehend…

Flight Home

The plane departed half a hour late. I wrote a postcard, began reading a novel, and Matt got a fair way into a movie by the time we started moving on the runway. To my surprise, the runway was built on water – it was like a series of bridges and piers! I’d never seen that before!I was having trouble engaging with the novel I’d brought to read, Essex Serpent. Fortunately the flight was short! We got through customs in record time, picked up our bags, and made our way to the UP Express towards home.

Now I lay, tucked into bed with my puffy duvet. The traffic below our window can be heard splashing by in the puddles caused by the spring rain, mixed with the gurgle of the humidifier at my bedside, and CBC Radio 2 playing in the kitchen. It feels good to be home.

Parked cars between tall buildings in downtown New York

View from High Line Park in NYC

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Easter Monday in NYC

Window looking out a garage covered in snow

Matt woke me up with a kiss on the cheek. Pulling back the curtain, he reveal a winter wonderland of white fluffy snowflakes amassing outside our bedroom window. Despite the balmy weather, at least six inches of snow had fallen overnight!

We had seen the forecast, but figured it had to be a typo at the Weather Channel. You can’t go from 15C to snow with a high of 8C – but apparently you can!

The streets were an obstacle course. Few sidewalks had been cleared and we slipped and skipped over the puddles and slush, packed down by many feet. Us two Canadians were unprepared for this!

Rainbow bagel and cream cheese

Bagel Blvd

We went to Bagel Blvd by Astoria Blvd Station for breakfast. The bagels were huge! I tried the rainbow bagel with lox flavoured cream cheese and Matt had an egg sandwich. It came to $9 – our most affordable meal yet! The server said each colour of my bagel was a different flavour, but I didn’t feel like tearing each section apart to test this. It definitely had a distinct lemon and blueberry flavour though.

The washroom at this place was very odd. Along the wall were six large cardboard boxes of potpourri and along the other were pots of dead hiancyths and daffodils, wilted and brown. The room did not smell pretty either, despite all their efforts to cover up whatever smell was there.

We took the subway downtown. The train jerked along so violently, a bolt popped out and fell right in front of us! “The train is falling apart!” Matt exclaimed.

Flower breathing dragon

Macy’s Flower Show

We took the subway to Macy’s Flower Show. It was on the ground level of Macy’s, the second largest department store in the USA. Nestled between designer handbags and cosmetics were fairytale themed flower displays, tourists snapping pictures, and the occasional guide giving a loud verbal tour. It was a visual merchandiser or set designers dream gig!

Two people standing on a wood escalator

The store had what we presumed to be the originally escalators going up – wooden slats! We had never seen such a thing before. It was incredible to think they still remained in operation! A piece of history of daily life at our feet.

Ornate lighting fixture hanging from a vaulted ceiling

New York Public Library

We walked through Bryant Park to the library. It was in stark contrast to yesterday. No one was lounging in the lawn chairs. The carousel was still and covered up in plastic and the flowers were covered in snow!

The library was unlike anything I’d seen before. Floor to ceiling was carved was detailed wood carvings, ornate marble and ironwork! The heavy wood study desks were lit by brass lamps and all around were rows and rows of books. It was a researcher’s dream! Kinda wished I had an essay to write here… This was my kind of place!

Photo of buds on a tree with a fire escape in the background

High Line Park

We walked to High Line Park from the library. We stopped at the Loop along the way, an interactive art display of flip books you control with arm power, courtesy of the Province of Quebec and Ville de Montreal.

We were getting hungry, so stopped in a random pizza place along the way: Frankie Boys. I got a Cesar salad pizza slice, which was basically salad on top of bread. Matt had a slice with ricotta, basil, and olive oil. It was fresh, but nothing to write home about (but I guess that’s what I’m doing right now with this blog post – hi Mum!)

The High Line Park was built along above ground railway tracks. It was beautifully designed, with benches and simple gardens throughout. There were high end condos and high rises built right up against it to – we could see right into people’s windows!

Photo of the space between two buildings in the sun

Chelsea Market

At the end of the High Line, we descended the stairs to the Meat Packing district – a playground for the wealthy. We took a joined the jostling crowds to walk through Chelsea Market briefly, but all the high end boutiques and eatery’s were hard to admire through the throngs of people.

Photo of bowls of spices

Stone Street Coffee & Speakeasy

We took refuge at a small cafe called Stone Street Coffee. As we sipped our coffee, people kept coming and going through a camouflaged door in the wall – paneling with a coffee poster on it. I just presumed it was the staff entrance for a neighbouring bar, but when we asked the barista for advice on how to kill three hours in NYC, he told us the speakeasy behind that door opened in two hours!

He opened the door for us to have a peek inside the Bathtub Gin speakeasy. It was a dark room modelled like an old fashioned bar. Staff were inside busily cleaning and polishing glasses. Apparently they do a burlesque brunch on Sundays – that would have been fun!

Photo of tramway and highway

Roosevelt Island Tramway

We took the tram to Roosevelt Island. There was a visitor centre by the water. I asked the volunteer if there was somewhere I could read about the island. He was more than happy to tell me all about it.

Apparently the island had many different names. The indigenous people called it one thing, till the Dutch came, then the British came along, then two families named it, and then in the 1970’s the buildings were demolished and it was renamed Roosevelt Island.

Back in the day, there was an insane asylum, a smallpox hospital, a prison, an orphanage, and workhouses here. Basically, if you were unwanted by New York society, they sent you here where you were trapped on this island! Sounded awful!

Patsy’s Pizzeria

We took the tram back over to the mainland and found a bar offering happy hours. We sat near the pizza oven were it was toasty and warm. I sipped a $5 beer while Matt answered work emails, enjoying the scent of oregano in the air.

Menu and water glasses on a table

Don’t Tell Mama

We took the subway towards Times Square for our 6:30 reservation at Don’t Tell Mama. The restaurant had been recommended to Matt multiple times. They had a $32 prix fixe menu and live music. The restaurant service was good, the food came quickly, but the food was quite bland.

After our meal, we shifted over to the piano bar. Matt enjoyed the Elton John inspired pianist, singing along with the vocalist. We were feeling the wallet pinch, so decided to forego our Cast Party reservations at Birdland at 9:30 ($30 pp cover + 2 drink minimum pp) and stay at the bar. However, the next performer was obnoxious and when paired with our inhospitable waitress, we decided to head home at 10pm.

We wandered through Times Square on the way to the subway. We lamented that our flight was so late the next day, how we just wanted to be home and be back at work tomorrow. Travelling really does make one appreciate how fortunate we are to live the life we do in Toronto…

We took the subway back to Astoria. Now I sit in the dark writing this post with the pop song New York stuck in my head. Off in the distance, if I listen really closely, I can hear traffic and a siren, but beyond that there is silence.

Photo of a bridge and trees covered in snow

Easter Sunday in NYC

Photo of boarded up doors and windows on Astoria Blvd.

To start off the day, Matt put on CBC Choral Concert and I wore paper bunny ears as we ate SOMA bunny shaped chocolate with our morning coffee. Our host had bought more coffee to share and Matt made a full Bodum worth to catapult us into our second day in NYC.

We walked over to Astoria Provisions to get bagels to go. Matt remarked how the neighbourhood reminded him of Queen/Sherbourne in Toronto except with very expensive, clean cars everywhere.

Bagels were taking awhile, so we cancelled our order and I got a yellow muffin to go. I think it was cornbread. It was slightly sweet and crumbly, sticking to the paper wrapper.

Crowd of people in funny hats and bunny ears outside a church

Easter Bonnet Parade

We took the subway to St. Patrick’s Cathedral where crowd of people in Easter themed headgear mulling around. There were people in flashing bunny ears, wearing homemade creations of bunnies and straw, and haute couture toppers! It was a photographers dream!

Photo of a carousel horse behind a pot of pansies

Bryant Park

We walked to Bryant Square where my friend Rob told me there was a beautiful carousel. Matt stationed himself at a table while I galavanted around taking picture with my iPhone.

Bryant Park transported me to Europe. There were Parisian themed bakeries in little wood huts, bistro style seating, an old fashioned carousel playing Edith Piaf, and the scent of flowers in the air from all the pots of daffodils, hiancyths, and violets everywhere. It was heaven!

Unfortunately, the New York Public Library was closed for Easter Sunday so I couldn’t go in there. I had a lovely time going around the park, stopping to take pictures of the many delights in the square. It’s my favourite part of New York so far!

Street food vendors selling Thai and Mexican food

Empire State Building

We walked to the Empire State Building but it was $37 to go up, so we just looked at the unimpressive lobby before making our way towards Battery Park.

I was starting to feel a little faint when we serendipitously stumbled upon a street fair. Matt had a pretzel and hotdog from a street vendor earlier, but I hadn’t eaten everything all day but a muffin! Matt spotted tamales with black bean rice at a Mexican food vendor at the street fair. I’d never had tamales before – they looked interesting!

We sat on the curb as I devoured the meal, feeling blissfully happy. The tamales were delicious! Potato-like corn husks stuffed with spicy chicken – just what I needed!

Potted flowers at Bryant Park

Evolution Store

Fortified, we made our way to the Evolution Nature Store – Matt’s favourite store in NYC! When I asked him how to describe the store, he just said “Magical” with a gleam in his eye. It’s full of fossils, rocks, and other sciencey things. He got a second trilobite for our ‘science shelf’ at home, with a $1 dinosaur bone. He was like a kid in a candy store!

Glasses of water on a table as a person types on a charging phone

The Half Pint

I really needed to sit down – my feet were killing from all the walking and my ankles felt like they would snap! I spotted a sign that said “pint” near the university. We walked towards the Half Pint and settled in by the window. The waitress brought over a portable charger for us to charge our phones – I’d never seen that before!

Matt got a chocolate milk beer stout from SingleCut Beersmiths in Astoria and I got a strawberry blonde beer from Spotzel Shiner in Texas! Matt hummed along to Ray Charles which was playing on the speakers as I took photos of the flowers on the table.

Much to our amusement, the bar had unlimited mimosas for $19 for 90 minutes. Tempting… but we just a got another pint while I bopped around to the music in my chair. I tried the Blue Liner Toasted Lager this time while Matt got a BrewDog Hazy Jane IPA. Matt’s earlier pick was our favourite – the texture was just like chocolate milk!

Green hedge outside a church building

Washington Park

We walked through Washington Park. It was a crowded with people! There was a grand piano under the arch, a three piece jazz band playing by the bushes, and someone felling felted pigeons. Around the park were classic old brick town houses with white columns and stone lions.

Water with the silhouette of the Statue of Liberty on the horizon

Battery Park

We took the subway down to Battery Park where we could see the Liberty Statue from afar. Then we wandered down to the Titanic Memorial and across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn bridge suspensions and American flag

Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge was my kind of hell. The pedestrian walkway was bordered on either side by a highway of cars that zoomed by. Beyond that was the water, far below us. The bridge was stuffed full of tourists with disgruntled cyclists ringing their bells trying to get through the endless crowds.

In my exhaustion, my mind went to the possible options of death: by car, drowning, trampling… or an angry cyclist blowing us all up! (Okay, not the latter) I put one foot in front of the other and kept reminding myself it would soon all be over – and that Matt said there was pizza at the end of this!

Toy cars on the ironwork of Brooklyn Bridge

Dinner in Brooklyn

At the bottom of the bridge was Juliana’s Pizza. We had planned to go to go there for dinner but there was a line up around the block! We tried the various other options beneath the bridge, but they were either closed, didn’t have pizza, or had a long wait for a table.

Yelp was not very helpful. It was suggesting middle eastern restaurants and places we’d passed the menus of that did not have pizzas! Tired and hungry, we eventually made our way up Henry Street which was lined with restaurants on one side. We went into the first place that had pizza: Bevacco.

New York skyline at sunset with the underside of the Brooklyn bridge silhouetted against the sky

Bevacco

The service at Bevacco left much to be desired, but it was beautifully decorated. It was like a French bistro straight out of 1900’s Paris! We ordered the spinach and ricotta pizza with a side of grilled sourdough with brûléed Parmesan.

After dinner I ordered the Amaro Tasting flight. I’ve been quite enjoying Amaro Nonino at home since having it at Terroni’s for Matt’s birthday. This flight included three amaros liqueurs: Amaro Meleti, Fernet Branco, and Amaro Averna. The latter was mine and Matt’s favourite. The Branco was hard to get through (cough syrup?) and the Meleti was extremely floral – I couldn’t decided if I liked it or not.

We got lost again on the subway ride home , but eventually found our way home. Now we sit in bed listening to minimalist classical music, relaxing after a long day. We did over 20km today – two days in a row! Now, sleep.

Photo of a street vendor selling costume bunny ears

Easter weekend in New York City

Pink blossoms against a blue sky

Journey to NYC

We took the UP Express to Toronto’s Pearson Airport and got through customs in a heartbeat. After finding our gate, we checked into the airport lounge. To our delight, we got in at no extra charge with Matt’s key! (Must have been because it was a small lounge) We took full advantage of the open bar and limitless kale quinoa salad and garlic linguine before boarding our flight.

Once on board, we watched the city below disappear into darkness as we left the ground, the city was a grid of white, orange, and yellow lights. Matt settled into Alien: Convenant on which I watched over his shoulder in appreciation of the cinematography. He said it was a scary film – just as well I couldn’t hear the audio or read any captions!

As we descended into New York, I found myself thinking about the Canada Reads novel American War I’d just finished reading yesterday, and Emily St. James novel Station Eleven from a couple years ago. New York looked like a very dark and lonely place from up above. Yet there was a twinkle of light and glow of spotlights in the clouds that gave the darkness life. The full moon shone above the plane, lighting the wisps of clouds with its glow as if we were in a gothic novel.

We got a bit lost on the transit there. We couldn’t find the bus stop for the bus Google told us to get on and the airport staff didn’t know either. So we got on a bus (free for the holidays!) and the driver dropped us off as a subway which turned out to be far off course. The transfers the bus driver gave us didn’t work on the subway, so we paid a fare.

Plastic plant on a windowsill behind a white curtain

AirBnB in Astoria

We eventually made it to our AirBnB. Despite the late hour of our arrival, our host greeted us with great energy! He was shocked we took public transit – apparently Uber costs about the same and is much faster!

The apartment was in an old building, reminding me of artist’s apartments in Chinatown of Toronto or Montreal. He’d put a lot of effort into decoration – retro kitch with a tropical beach theme. Not my style, but endearing.

Old fire alarm on a pole by a park

Easter in New York: Day One

We slept very well on the memory foam mattress in our quiet little room. Matt woke me up with a kiss on my cheek – he was eager to get coffee! Our hostess was out. Much to our amusement, Facebook’s recommendations of “highly rated restaurants in your neighbourhood” was 7/11 and McDonalds.

Photo of condiments on a table with a waiter in the background

Astoria Provisions

We consulted Yelp for the best coffee spot in the neighbourhood. Top of the list was Astoria Provisions. They had a whole range of avocado and toasts recipes – Matt joked a millennium like me would like the place. (Ironically he’s the one who ordered the ricotta and honey avocado toast)

Astoria Provisions was unassuming at a rundown looking intersection with a library, car dealership, and industrial buildings that had all seen better days. Inside, the cafe was all white tile with blue trim. Delicious pastries sat on cake stands on the counter with bouquets of wild flowers. We sat with my back to the window, the warm sun warm on my skin. The waiter served us water in a wine bottle. (I always feel like a lush pouring a full glass of water from a alcohol bottle)

We ordered two coffees (it was very good), pull apart bread with New York cheddar and butter, and I got peppery grits with thick slices of ‘sugary bacon’! Thought I’d get a Southern themed dish after reading American War – the book still haunts me!

The pull apart bread was like the white of a pretzel covered in cheese, salt, and butter. It took the edge off our hunger as we waited for our food. Much to our delight, we also got free refills of our delicious coffee!

The food was very good – flavourful, detailed, and good quality. We were so full we didn’t have to eat until dinner – yet the portions were very reasonable.

Suspension bridge and city skyline

Morning stroll from Astoria to Manhattan

We went for a little walk around our new neighbourhood after brunch to work off some of the carbs. Astoria Park was full of runners. The traffic filled the air with a constraint hymn as cars crossed the Robert Kennedy bridge overhead. There were workout stations along the park path with stretching instructions where buff old men huffed away and teenagers showed off at. Most of the trees bore bare branches, but much to my excitement we saw one cherry tree in bloom – a sign of spring!

From Astoria Park, the skyline looked like it was made from LEGO. The high rises rose up in a blocky and rectangular fashion. There was one very tall and narrow building that rose up far above all the others – like a stack of grey single LEGO bricks, using every last one in the box!

We walked to the Guggenheim, crossing the bridge we’d walked beneath at the park. The chain link fence rattled as cars zoomed past us on the highway, exhaust fumes making us dizzy with the noise, height, and speed. As we walked over the water, the chain link fence stopped. Now there was just a blue railing between us and the long drop below – no suicide prevention here! The concrete of the suspension bridge shook, jiggled beneath my feet. I felt queezy.

Pedestrian bridge to Manhattan through a chain link tunnel

As we descended the bridge onto Randall’s Island, we found ourselves in a chain link tunnel. The speeding cars were above our heads now, making me feel better. Just the caw-thunk-caw-thunk of tires. We walked along the water for a bit, then over Wards Island Bridge, a pedestrian draw bridge, and then we were in Manhattan!

We walked in Central Park and sat on a bench for awhile. We watched the dogs chase squirrels and young families with their strollers. Daffodils poked up from the brown leaves and sparrows tweeted in the old growth trees. The smell of burnt sugar wafted over from the street vendors, mixing with the ode-de-dogue after the springtime thaw.

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

As we headed towards the Guggenheim, we saw the grand gates of the Cooper Hewitt Museum. There was a big sign for an exhibition titled Access + Ability. As an accessibility professional, I of course had to go! So, Matt wandered off into Central Park while I paid admission for the Cooper Hewitt.

Adult admission was $18. I was given a big stylus that was attached to my ticket number. I could press the end of the stylus to a exhibition description and it’s information would be saved to my ticket number. I could then log in from home and see all the pieces I’d like from the museum! They also had interactive screens where you could design things like a hat out of copper and aluminium (at least, that’s what I did)

The museum was in one of the Carnegie family’s mansions. It was extremely ornate – hard to imagine one person being able to afford this, let alone multiple houses! The security guard told me they made their fortune in steel.

The accessibility exhibit had many pieces I’d already seen. Even my friend’s designer walking stick was featured! I was amused to see HumanWare’s braille display and Microsoft’s Inclusive Design toolkit there too. There were lots of wearable tech examples, and an interesting radio for people with dementia that looked like a Frisher-Price version of a vintage radio you could turn on or off with a big button.

Next door was an exhibition on sound in design and our associations with sound. Upstairs with the permanent collection, including an impressive room of contemporary jewellery. It was very interesting.

I exited through the gift shop. As my biological clock is ticking away, I was smitten with the “Future Designer” onesies, Frank Lloyd Wright Shapes for Babies, and braille children books. But I resisted temptation…

I met Matt in the courtyard of the museum. We sat next to a Parisian family sitting in the sun, while children amused themselves in the chairs that were like giant spinning tops. While I’d been in the museum, Matt had been sitting on a rock in Central Park enjoying the sun.Photo looking up at the ceiling of the Guggenheim

Guggenheim

We walked next door to the Guggenheim. It was crawling with people. The entrance fee was expensive and none of the current exhibitions appealed to me, so we decided to go for a walk in Central Park instead.

Egyptian artifact over blossoms in Central Park

Central Park

We wandered aimlessly through Central Park, taking whichever path took our fancy. I stopped to take pictures of the spring flowers everywhere with Matt taking his signature panoramic photos whenever we reached a good viewpoint.

We exited the park at the Museum of Natural History. It was even more crowded than the Guggenheim! So, we sat outside on a bench and admired the planetarium from a distance. It was far too nice weather to spend inside a museum anyway – especially such a crowded one!

Our phone batteries were running low, so I rummaged through my bag for my charging cable and battery. Turned out both Matt and I had forgotten our charging cable. We can’t get home without Google Maps, so went on a mission for a charging cable.

Photo of flowed for sale outside a shop

Goodwill

While on our mission, I spotted a Goodwill along the way. So Matt left me to peruse the aisles while he continued the hunt for an iPhone cable. The prices were rather steep at this Goodwill, but I found two beautiful blazers for $20. It’s so hard to find blazers that fit well and I go through them so quickly as they are a wardrobe staple for me.

Photo of a person reading a menu

Zurutto Ramen and Gyoza Bar

Matt did a search for ramen in the area. The top hit was across the road at Zurutto. They had a truffle ramen – I was sold! Matt ordered the signature dish and we each got a bottle of Japanese beer: Kagua and Ozeno Yukidoke. We had some pork dumplings to start – everything was delicious! I woofed down my ramen – I was hungry! We had skipped lunch after all.

Time Warner Building

After scoping out the MET, we walked up Broadway then over to the Time Warner Building. Someone had a cat in a backpack with a bubble window and we passed condo listings that started at 3 million! Whoa!

A friend had recommended Bouchon Cafe there and to check out the sculptures on display. There was no seating at the cafe and our feet were so tired, so we ended up at boring old Starbucks. I knew it from a business trip to NYC years ago when I worked in the fashion industry. (Hard to forget the place an old man tried to proposition me with a purse stuffed with American dollar bills!)

Person reading the Turendot theatre program at the Met

The Metropolitan Opera

We had balcony seats at the MET for an 8:30pm showing of Turandot by Puccini. The front doors had a crazy lineup, but the doors at the garage level were much more civilized. We went in once the doors opened at 7:45pm and quickly changed out of our walking clothes into our opera outfit!

We checked our coats and knapsack for a total of $9, then preordered prosecco for the second intermission and got comfy in our seats. The theatre was gold with red velvet with a scalloped ceiling and Sputnik looking crystal chandeliers. We admired the two red concert harps in the orchestra pit below. I’ve never seen a red harp before!

Instead of surtitles over the stage like at the Canadian Opera Company, they had little screens in front of each seat that you could turn on or off; English or German subtitles. The screens were shaded so that you wouldn’t be disturbed by your neighbour’s screen if you preferred to have none in front of you.

Ceiling of the Met theatre

The set was lavish as expected. The story took place in Peking and had acrobats doing flips and fight scenes. The first intermission came quickly and the singers came out to bow. We’d never seen a curtain call between acts before!

We lined up for coffee during first intermission. It was horrible – like gas station coffee at $5 a pop. Matt even found a piece of plastic in his cup. He was not impressed. What with the run down interior of the theatre and poor coffee experience, this did not meet our expectations for a world class theatre!

The intermission was very long – perhaps due to the complex set design. The set got “Oooohs” from the audience when revealed. I’d never seen a set so detailed in my life! Matt and I traded opera glasses to get a good look. The production was indeed impressive!

We picked up our plastic flutes of prosecco from the waiter we placed our order with and tried to find a good place for a selfie to commemorate another bucket list item checked off – the MET! Sadly, the lighting at the MET is not made for pictures.

Sitting back at our seats, I got chatting with the student sitting next to me. He goes to the opera or ballet once a week – apparently there are $20 standing tickets! Tomorrow was his birthday, so he’d treated himself to a sitting ticket. I thought that was nice.

After the opera, we made our way to the subway. We passed Trump Tower on the way – lots of cop cars around it. We walked along the edge of Central Park to the 57th Street subway entrance where we hoped on an F train towards Queens. We were both very tired and it was a long wait for the Q69 bus home so we hopped in a taxi to our cozy bed.

In the darkness of our room, Matt and I discussed the opera from under a puffy comforter. Matt was was disappointed with the tenor, acoustics, venue, and serving beverages in plastic cups. However, we both agreed the set design was excellent. Matt said he’d be interested to see the MET on screen and not have to deal with a venue that cuts corners everywhere – or just go to Berlin, Milan, Paris, or home in Toronto where our expectations are met/exceeded! Matt certainly has seen opera in a lot of amazing places!

Now I lay in bed writing this post on my phone. Its almost 3am now and I have the opera replaying in my head… There is the soft hum of a TV in the next room and the muffled sound of our hosts voices through the thick walls. I think I’ll sleep well tonight.

Brooklyn popcorn trucks parked in a garage

San Diego and the CSUN Conference

colourful condo buildings and elongated trees

Condos in downtown San Diego

Day One

Matt walked me to the CSUN conference at the Hyatt Hotel from where we were staying in Little Italy. Once registered, I scurried off to my first session. My favourites from the day were on WordPress backward compatibility and accessible PDF design. I saw a couple friends from the Canadian accessibility scene – and lots of cute guide dogs!

After the conference, I went back to the hotel where Matt and I had a disco nap before heading back out into San Diego for the night’s festivities. We had a social with accessible karaoke and networking with beer ahead of us!

blue sky and contemporary building

View above the pool at the Hyatt Hotel

San Diego was a very strange city. It looked as if everything had been built in the last 20 years, kept sanitary, and manicured. A Lyft driver told us the city had been built on a dessert – every palm tree had been placed with purpose.

Matt and I went to the Deque social in the evening, but it was loud and we both felt awkward. We then made our way down to the hotel lobby bar, Redfield’s, which I was told was the place to be, but I didn’t see anyone I know.

So, we wandered over to a park in a marina where we saw lots of small rabbits by the water. Matt pointed out constellations in the stars to me, guessing which were stars or planets. We walked up the the convention centre where locals were exercising on the steps, making our way to the Gaslamp District.

I thought I might see some friends on the patio as the Gaslamp District had been applauded at the Toronto Accessibility Meet-up. We didn’t, but found cheap tacos and $2 beers at a Mexican bar to end our night that didn’t quite go as planned, on a tasty and economical note.

My notes from Day 1 of the CSUN Conference.

open doors into an old train station

Santa Fe train station in downtown San Diego

Day Two

Matt packed me a sandwich lunch while I got ready (CSUN does not offer snacks or lunch) and walked me to the conference before parting ways to do professional networking of his own in the Los Angeles’ film industry.

My favourite talks at CSUN that day were on Accessible Maps and a discussion on diversity, focusing on Whole Food’s orange controversy. At lunch, I went and sat by the marina to eat my sandwich where I watched the boats and tourists go by. It was very relaxing to sit in the sun listening to the birds in the trees, the water lapping the rocks on the shore, and the breeze in the leaves.

After the conference, I went and sat in at the Hyatt’s bar, Redfield’s, where I was told all the good discussions happen. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anyone I knew and the Narwhal stout I decided to try was undrinkable (fizzy water with corn syrup anyone?). So, I left my full beer at the bar and wandered about outside, taking pictures of downtown San Diego until it was time for the CSUN Tweet-up.

palm trees against a sunset

Palm trees outside the Hyatt Hotel

Usually I thrive at accessibility meet-ups, but instead anxiety took over despite knowing people there. I went and sat outside for a bit, admiring the sunset behind the palm trees before going back into for Round Two of the Tweet-up. However, I felt even worse the second time that not even the prospect of free pastries or booze could entice me (two of my favourite things!). So, I wandered back to the hotel feeling like the worst human being to have passed up the best opportunity ever to hangout with the crème de la crème of my industry.

My notes from Day 2 of CSUN.

photo of a low rise condo building

Condos and office buildings in downtown San Diego

Day Three

The last day of CSUN went by very quickly. There was a live broadcast of the Viking & Lumberjack with pizza and beer. I always enjoy their performances – it’s so great to laugh about one’s own industry and shared experiences.

I went to two sessions by Adobe, both uninspiring, but had some big news dropped: Adobe is adding an undo function to Acrobat for tagging, reading order etc! No release date set yet, but this is pretty major. I made sure I had heard correctly 3 times before I tweeted out the news. It’s a game changer.

Matt returned from LA at the same time I got back to the hotel after CSUN finished. We walked up India Street to a new part of town we hadn’t explored yet. It was lined with breweries, little boutiques, and old cottages, which was a pleasant change from the overly touristy downtown core.

photo of a plane flying overhead of a patio at a bar

A plane flying above the patio at El Camino

We ended up at El Camino, a chic Mexican bar under an airline approach path. We sat on the patio and watched the planes come in while enjoying $3 and $5 Mexican food during a very happy hour(s). We had a great time! It was perfect way to cheers the end of our big feats – my time at CSUN and Matt’s trip to LA.

My notes from Day 3 of CSUN.

The Great Big List from CSUN 2016 (slides and other attendee’s notes)

photo of Nell's CSUN badge on a table

Post-conference celebrations at El Camino

Driving the Californian Coast

 Big Sur mountains and beach 
We awoke groggy and tired. Neither of us had slept well. When we went down for breakfast, CNN was showing footage of a terrorist attack on an airport in Brussels. We ate our blueberry waffles and yogurt in silence.

It was 8:30 by the time we hit the road. The drive along the coast was beautiful. Moss covered trees, cliffs, and huge waves! Big Sur was particularly beautiful and we even saw some seals a little later on. They looked like dead bodies in sacks to me.

 Big Sur mountains and beach 
As we were pressed for time to reach San Diego by nightfall, we didn’t make many stops along the way. We took the Cabrillo Highway until it ended, then continued as close to the coast as possible.

The further south we drove, the more exotic the roadside became. The scenery changed from lush, old growth forests to shrubs and palm trees, red stone cliffs to yellow stone covered in low lying wild flowers. Architecture had a distinct Spanish influence, pale yellow with red tile roofs. 

 Matt taking a photo of the ocean 
The weather remained constantly sunny, but gradually grew warmer until I could discard my spring jacket. We sang along to 80’s music, accompanied by Matt giving me rock music history lessons and answering science questions I had on passing phenomenons.
 mountain in southern california 

Once we got into Santa Barbara, the horizon was lined with oil rigs against the hazy backdrop of the Channel Islands of California. We drove through Malibu and Los Angeles (LA). We hit rush hour traffic in LA where it was stop and go for about 3 hours through a combination of diners and shops, including a thrift store that doubled as a HIV testing clinic.

The sun began to set outside of LA. The sky had hints of lavender blue, pink and orange smog over distant jagged mountains with a large, bright moon overhead. Looking back, the sky was pale blue with candy floss pink clouds. 

We arrived in San Diego around 8:30pm. Once we checked into our hotel, Urban Boutique Hotel, we went on a mission to find beer and tacos. However, everything was closing at 9pm on a Tuesday. The only place that had an open kitchen was a pasta and pizza place where we shared a plate and each had a beer. Fed and watered, we went home to bed. island off the coast of california 

San Francisco

coffee and a croissant

Matt enjoying an almond croissant at farm : table

Day One

We started off our day with breakfast at Farm : Table, a small but very popular cafe near our hostel on Nob Hill. Matt had a quiche, i had an egg and ham croissant with a Pug ‘n Honey latte, with an almond croissant to share on the sidewalk patio.

We walked all over San Francisco. The morning air was full of the scent of jasmine, the song of birds, and the rustle of leaves in the breeze of exotic trees. Our first stop was Crooked Street, a steep and windy road in a leafy residential district. Matt wanted to climb every steep road we could find and eventually we found ourself in a surreal district of billionaires’ mansions overlooking the city.

palace of fine arts

Palace of Fine Arts

 

We made our way back down to a historic fort with cute military cottages that reminded me of the Bain Co-op in Toronto. Then we went to Fisherman’s Wharf where we had our first good view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. We walked along the water until we got to the Palace of Fine Arts, an ornate neo-classical structure overlooking a peaceful water garden.

Approaching noon, we made our way to the jazz district. Matt wanted to catch the Palm Sunday service at the Church of John Coltrane. The colourful little room was full of people playing musical instruments, singing with big smiles on their faces, all in the style off the jazz musician John Coltrane. They handed out palm leaves which everyone waved around to the music, which was fun. I enjoyed looking around at the audience – in classic Californian style, there was even a smartly dressed woman with a tiny dog in her purse!

Civic Centre in San Francisco

The Civic Centre

 

We walked past City Hall and the ornate performing arts buildings, through interesting low income housing. We stopped in a cafe my friends had recommended to have an americano and lemon square before wandering back to our hostel to nap before meeting Matt’s friend Ted for dinner.

Ted took us to Hog Island Oyster Co at the San Francisco Ferry Building. The lineup was quite long, but we had a great time chatting in the rain about Toronto food and drink destinations. We shared an oyster sampler, chicken fried oysters on waffles (Matt loves waffles), chipotle grilled oysters, and Old Bay fries. We sat on the patio overlooking the water and the ferry, cozy under a heat lamp in the rain.

 

stormy ferry dock

Bike on the ferry port near Grey’s Bridge

We finished our evening at an ice cream parlour in the Ferry Building. After tasting a couple flavours (including savoury pepper and mint), all three of us settled on bourbon and cornflakes – with Matt adding caramel-bourbon sauce to his! Then we went home to bed and CBC radio.

 

seagull on the ferry dock

Seagull outside the Ferry Building

 

Day Two

We found a small sandwich shop using Yelp for breakfast. They had great coffee, very strong – and we each had an turkey egg sandwich while reading the San Francisco Chronicle. I quite enjoyed the newspaper – interesting stories and nice layout.

 

beetle parked on a hill in front of a row of town houdes

Beetle on a residential street in San Francisco

I was really feeling in from the day before. I’m not used to so much walking. We made slow progress to the Painted Lady, ornate pastel coloured houses, then to Haight and Ashbury on our way to Golden Gate Bridge.

I loved Haight and Ashbury! I treated myself to a small Smorkin’ Labbit figurine for my kitchen and found a nice blazer at Goodwill for $7.50. I was quite pleased!

It really started to downpour once we got to Golden Gate Park. We were hoping it would be a short spurt like all the rain we encountered yesterday, but it persisted. Matt was concerned about my limp, so we took a Lyft (like Uber) back to the hostel to check out.

 

golden gate bridge at sunlight

Baker’s Beach with a view of the Golden Bridge

After checkout, we went to Sushiritto for a sushi burrito. It was very good value! We got huge sushi rolls that filled us right up. By then our car rental was ready, so we took another Lyft to Hertz.

Keys in hand, we drove our little Mitsubishi across the Golden Gate Bridge, up to Battery Spenser, and to a couple lookouts along the cliff. Battery Spenser was pretty cool – abandoned military buildings and a great view of the bridge. We also went to Fort Miley, Cliff House, and Baker Bridge. I had an exhilarating time on the beach – I’d never seen waves so big in my life! They were huge!

We hit the road around 6:00pm. We had trouble finding a cheap place to stay, eventually settling on a Super 8 Motel in Salinas. I was exhausted and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

 

look out over the ocean at Cliff House

Lookout by the Cliff House