Category Archives: Travel

The Greatest City in the World

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On Saturday morning we set out to conquer another day on our packed itinerary. En route to Central Park, we sidled over to the Richard Rodgers Theater to gaze longingly at the Hamilton marquee and to fantasize about actually getting to see the show…

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By this time we had more or less decided that we would probably try to get in the cancellation line on Sunday. We were still waffling, because the thought of the long drive home afterwards, in the unlikely event that we would actually get in to see the musical, was daunting.

We pressed on to our destination, slowed only by my daughter’s insistence on stopping every five seconds to peek into restaurant windows to check on the progress of World Cup games:

IMG_4486We made a stop at Rockefeller Center to visit Magnolia Bakery and La Maison du Chocolat.

IMG_4492We finally made it to the Central Park Zoo. We didn’t get to see the polar bears I had remembered from my last trip to the zoo, but we did get to see the sea lions working hard for their lunch:

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Work, work!

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Why Zabar’s? you may be wondering…A few years ago, we were driving to my parents’ house to spend the weekend. It was around Christmas time and in the car ride up, I had been pestering the kids to come up with their wish lists. At my parents’ house, my daughter happened upon a Zabar’s catalogue that was lying around the house. She spent the whole weekend poring over the pages with rapturous wonder.

Could I put stuff from this catalogue on my list? she asked.

When we were leaving Arlington she couldn’t bear to be parted from the catalogue and asked my parents if she could keep it. It’s been enshrined on her bedside table ever since and has been thumbed through countless times.

Needless to say, a trip to Zabar’s was at the top of her list of things to do in New York.

In our 12-page itinerary, the plan was to stop at Zabar’s to buy a picnic lunch, then head back to Central Park to watch the Shakespeare in the Park performance of Twelfth Night.

The church next to Zabar’s, by the way, just happens to be where my dad was the minister for a Korean congregation in the 70s. Every Sunday for four years we would get up at the crack of dawn to drive two and a half hours from Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania to New York City, and two and a half hours back again after church. That was back in the days of no air conditioning in cars. My brother and I were consigned to the cargo area of our station wagon, where we would alternate kicking each other, singing songs at the top of our lungs, and puking from carsickness into an empty coffee can we kept in the car for just that purpose. Ah, the good old days…

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IMG_4552By the time we reached Zabar’s, we were completely out of steam. Our friends decided to head back to the hotel for a rest, and my daughter and I decided to skip Shakespeare and just hunker down at the counter to have lunch.

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I’m just like my country – I’m young, scrappy, and hungry.

We met back up with our friends at the hotel and collapsed onto a bed as we contemplated our next move…

My daughter took one look at my swollen feet and howled with laughter. They looked like puffy baby feet with pads of fat on the tops!

According to our itinerary, we were supposed to take a ferry to Brooklyn, get dinner at the Brooklyn Market, then hoof it back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge in time to catch the sunset.

Instead…we decided to “plan for spontaneity.” We did a little shopping at Muji:

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Muji 2018

…which for some reason uncannily reminded me of the last birthday trip to New York City and a visit to Muji:

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And then we hit the Hamilton cancellation line around 4 pm, four hours before the show was to start. There were already seven people in line ahead of us. Could we face it?

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When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game. But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game…I want to be in the room where it happens.

Our friends came prepared with the blankets we had been planning to use for the Central Park picnic that never happened, games to while away the time, and newly-purchased art supplies from Muji:

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Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it.

Having been the crazy person to have suggested that we try the cancellation line, I was anxious to try to manage the girls’ expectations. I kept trying to mentally prepare them for the distinct possibility of waiting four hours for nothing.

“Girls, don’t be disappointed if we don’t get tickets.”

“If we only manage to get two tickets, you guys will go and we’ll pick you up right here after the show.”

“Even if we don’t get in, standing in line is part of the whole New York experience!” my friend blustered with cheerful, if unconvincing bravado.

By the second hour, I began saying, “Girls, remember: don’t be disappointed when we don’t get tickets, because we probably won’t.”

“OK,” they would dutifully reply every time, both of them looking inscrutable, yet ripe for complete and utter devastation.

By hour three of our four hour wait in the line, my daughter was getting antsy. She leaned over to me and whispered, “Honestly, I’d rather just go to Brooklyn. We’re wasting four whole hours of our last day in New York just sitting here for tickets that we won’t even get.”

When someone from the box office came over to the line about an hour before the show and let just the first two people into the theater to buy tickets, we really began to lose hope.

“Let’s plan all the fun things we’re going to do this evening in case we don’t get tickets…Let’s spoil ourselves with a really yummy dinner in Brooklyn…and ice cream! And won’t it be fun to walk across the bridge? I’ve never done that before!”

“Uh-huh, yeah,” the girls replied as they stared off into the distance with glazed eyes, some unseen inner melodrama playing out in their little souls.

About a half hour before the show, all the happy ticket holders filed past us as they walked into the theater, stopping under the marquee for their obligatory social-media-worthy Hamilton photo.

Five minutes before the show we were still waiting.

Suddenly, a man ran over from the box office and pulled the first two people in line to enter the theater and buy tickets. After a minute, the man came back and got the next person in line. Another minute later, he brought over the mother and daughter who were directly in front of us. By this point, my heart was pounding, and I studiously avoided catching the girls’ eyes.

And then – glory, glory, hallelujah! – it was our turn! When we got to the box office, the woman at the counter said she had standing room only tickets left for $40 each.

We rushed up the stairs just in time for the opening number. The last person to get in was the man standing right behind us in line.

We stood there in shock, joy, and disbelief. It’s just possible that some of us may have even teared up a bit…

The opening number was spectacular, but my eyes kept drifting away from the stage and over to the girls. I can honestly say, it was just as fun for me to watch their rapt expressions as it was to watch that first number. As it came to an end, I leaned over to whisper in my daughter’s ear: “This is so boring. Let’s just leave and go to Brooklyn instead.” She barely deigned to acknowledge my frivolous comment, not even peeling her eyes from the stage for a second. (Cue the song: I am not throwing away my shot!)

It was literally painful to stand on our aching feet for the almost three hour show, but we loved every minute of it.

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Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!

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When our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.

And now? My job as a mother to this child is done. I might as well retire now. What more could I possibly do for her in life to top this?

We returned the next day before we left New York for our obligatory marquee photos…

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You’ll be back like before!

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Rise up!

The High Line and the Tenement Museum

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It seemed like everyone we knew was in New York City this past weekend. The girls discovered that one of their good friends and her mom happened to be in the hotel right next to ours. We met up for breakfast at one of their favorite spots – Daniela Trattoria:

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We joked about how this breakfast had not been factored into the 12 page master plan and that a certain amount of processing had to be done to mentally adjust to this unexpected twist. We laughed about how the Careening Pinball and the Master Planner were negotiating our different styles, especially when it came to the question of whether or not we should try to wait in the Hamilton cancellation line.

“I’m a planner too,” our friend said, “But I’ve learned to plan for spontaneity. I always like to leave space in my schedule for things that come up unexpectedly.”

“Plan for spontaneity” may be my new motto in life…although I suppose it would only work if I ever had a plan to begin with.

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We headed off to the glorious High Line, the urban park built around a defunct elevated railway line:

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The last time I was there a few years ago, the plantings looked new and a bit sparse…Now it’s a lush oasis complete with full-grown trees.

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There’s a lot of new construction going up around the High Line…IMG_4387

My daughter picked out the apartment building where she wants to live when she grows up:

IMG_4366 The building at 520 West 28th Street was Zaha Hadid’s last New York project. Later we did a little internet research and discovered that there are currently five condo units for sale ranging from $5,095,000 for a 1,691 sq. foot unit to $13,500,000 for a 4,220 sq. foot unit. There are two $50,000,000 penthouses. Steep? Yes! But the building has its own 12 seat IMAX theater, spa, pool, etc. etc. Still too much? Maybe my daughter could just rent instead…the cheapest rental goes for a mere snip at $15,000 a month; the more expensive ones for $22,500. Dream big, kid.

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The wrong side of the tracks?

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We got off the High Line to go shopping in Chelsea Market. We had so much fun, we lost track of time and realized we didn’t even have time for lunch.

We had to hustle to get to the Tenement Museum at 103 Orchard Street, where we were fortunately booked for a Food Tour that took us to lots of different locations around the Lower East Side. img_4616Some of the many stops included Vanessa’s Dumplings, where we tried a Beijing style dumpling, Russ & Daughters Café, where we tried a bagel and schmeer, and El Castillo de Jagua, where we tried some fried plantain. My daughter’s favorite just may have been the pickled pineapple we had here:

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We had a short break before the next “Under One Roof” tour we were scheduled for, where we walked around apartments recreated to the specifications of tenants who had lived there, and heard their stories.

If I had to do it over again, I would probably only schedule one tour – two back to back tours were pretty exhausting.

We made our way to David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village for dinner. My daughter has been pining to try any of David Chang’s restaurants, and was thrilled to finally go to his original Momofuku restaurant.

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She loved her Braised Oxtail with chili, buttered rice, and a poached egg…IMG_4434

We took a subway to our next destination…

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This is why I love New York…IMG_4437

No matter how weird you are, there’s always someone or something weirder, just around the corner.

No trip to New York with the younger set is complete without a stop at Dylan’s Candy Bar:

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We decided to forgo the tasty selection at Dylan’s, because we were saving ourselves for…

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Well…maybe when we’re living in one of those $50,000,000 penthouse apartments we’ll come back and try one of those items on Serendipity’s menu. This time, we settled for something slightly more modest:

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The girls sampled their mamas’ classic frozen hot chocolates before their own dessert arrived…

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We staggered back to our hotel, exhausted, happy, and stuffed.

Tomorrow: Hamilton…to be or not to be?

 

 

Girls Weekend in NYC

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Five years ago when my oldest was turning 13, we celebrated by going to NYC with friends. For five long years my daughter has been anxiously awaiting her turn to go to NYC for her 13th birthday. We finally made the trip this past weekend, a couple months shy of her actual birthday. This time we went with friends we’ve known since the girls were in 2nd grade…IMG_3287

I’ve heard it said that traveling together is a good way to test marital compatibility. So much togetherness can be challenging, especially when the fellow travelers have different personalities. In some ways, my friend and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum, especially when it comes to planning and organization. I tend to blunder through life like a ball careening around a pinball machine. My friend, on the other hand, is a master planner. For months she had been sending me updates to an exhaustively researched itinerary, which she was meticulously honing over time like the finest of diamonds. About a week before we left, she sent me the final itinerary. Our four day long weekend had been translated into a polished 12 page document, complete with maps and travel times between destinations. It was truly a marvel to behold.

And then, like the unthinking hooligan I am, I lobbed a grenade…Right before we left, I had lunch with another friend, who told me about the last minute trip to NY she and her husband had recently taken. On the spur of the moment, they had gotten into the cancellation line for Hamilton. After two hours of waiting, they actually got in to see the musical. I thought this worth mentioning to my friend only because I happened to know that she had been playing the Hamilton lottery on a daily basis for months, maybe even years. Our daughters and all of their friends know every lyric to every single song on the soundtrack. Some day we’ll get tickets to see the show, we would tell our daughters…imagining that “some day” would be in a couple decades when the costumes would be moth-eaten and falling apart at the seams.

“I’m not invested or anything,” I texted to her…”Just an idea.”

Well. How do you shoehorn hours of waiting for something that might not even transpire into a tightly packed itinerary? We discussed the possibilities endlessly as we made our way to New York…

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Setting off on our trek.

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We made a pit stop in Arlington to pay our respects to the ‘rents, who – as always- could barely contain their excitement and practically hurt themselves by grinning with excessive enthusiasm.

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Training it to the city.

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Dinner at Don Giovanni’s

We never did manage to decide how to handle the whole Hamilton situation, but we put the question aside and finished up our long day of travel by going to see a play we had been able to get tickets for.

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Puffs, a show based on Harry Potter.

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More tomorrow…

 

 

Day at the Zoo

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IMG_5225The kids had a day off school on Friday and I took a day off work so we could loaf with the animals at the Metro Richmond Zoo in Chesterfield, Virginia…

We could hardly tear ourselves away from the baby monkeys in the animal nursery.

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Just hangin’ out…

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Fox on a Box

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Maybe she’s born with it…Maybe it’s Maybelline.

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Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!

The giraffes are the main attraction…IMG_5272

IMG_5280They eat right out of your  hand…IMG_5285…with their enormous blue tongues.

Speaking of blue…

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It’s not every girl who can coordinate her sneakers, shorts, brand new braces, and…

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Eclipse!

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My husband and I have talked about taking the Crescent to New Orleans for as long as we’ve been married. Earlier this summer he finally found a reason to buy tickets. He was determined to be in the path of totality to see the eclipse. A lot can happen in twenty years…In our case, we added three extra people to our family. Instead of a cozy berth for two, he ended up booking three roomettes for our family of five.IMG_4968

The train was scheduled to leave Charlottesville at 10:30 pm, but we didn’t actually leave until midnight…

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The step to the top bunk was also the lid of the toilet…IMG_1083Directly over the toilet was the fold down sink…

We woke up at the crack of dawn to have breakfast in the dining car…

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We arrived in Greenville a bit rough around the edges after a night of very little sleep.

FullSizeRender 44A shuttle bus took us to the campus of Clemson University and we found a good spot for viewing.

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IMG_4988IMG_1163It was a very, very long drive in a rental car back to Charlottesville. We didn’t get home until 3 am, and then…it was back to work!

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The kids start school tomorrow.

I’m so sad the summer is over, but seeing the eclipse together was a memorable way to cap it off.

 

Black Rock Sands & the Festiniog Railway

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I’m sure the first thing that pops into anyone’s mind when they think of the U.K. is the beach…what with the endless sunny days and the balmy, tropical climate.

On a morning that was forecasted to be sunny and mild, we packed a picnic lunch and headed to Black Rock Sands to lounge about, soaking up the warmth of the sun:

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It’s a wind baby!

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As we walked along the beach looking for a place to have our picnic, I was literally shaking violently from the cold. Not being a very stiff-upper-lip kind of person, I decided I would forgo the picnic and hang out in the car until the rest of my crazy family was ready to leave. I watched them trudge off into the dunes, their bodies bent over at right angles as they battled the winds. I felt ever-so-slightly guilty, but mostly gleeful as I settled down for a nap in the car, which we had parked right on the beach. After just a few minutes, my husband came back to drag me into the sand dunes, insisting that it was  “almost warm” in the shelter of the dunes…IMG_4572

Almost warm? Possibly to an Eskimo! Nevertheless, clad in our finest beach attire, we kept calm and carried on with a picnic on the beach. IMG_4580IMG_4581

Our picnic was a little rushed, because the tide was coming in and we were afraid our car was going to be swept out to sea. Oh, and also because it was freezing cold and had begun to rain.

We drove on to our next destination…a train ride on the Festiniog Railway.

IMG_4599Unfortunately, the driving rain prevented us from seeing anything but the odd cow from our windows. On the bright side, the company was pleasant and we were out of the rain!

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The Festiniog Railway holds a special place in my husband’s heart. During his gap year before starting college, he spent some time working in their archives. They gave him this World War I document as a parting gift:

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Perhaps they gave it to the promising young historian about to embark upon his studies at Cambridge as a reward for his exceptional work in the archives. Or perhaps they gave it to him for pitching in to help with the buffet cart whenever they were short-staffed. My very tall husband makes me laugh every time he reenacts how he would carry trays of scalding hot tea through the aisles of a swaying train, his head bowed to avoid hitting it on the top of the train carriage.

He and his brother were waiting to pick us up at the station at the other end. The first order of business was to find a cup of tea – the sine qua non for life in the U.K.!

As we drove through Canaerfon and past Canaerfon Castle, my father-in-law pointed it out as the place of Prince Charles’ investiture… i.e. where he became the Prince of Wales. That’s when my mother-in-law broke out a story about her own personal encounter with Prince Charles…

My in-laws were living in St. Andrews, close to Gordonstoun, the boarding school in Scotland where the young prince was studying. My mother-in-law was asked to be his external examiner in French and German.

I didn’t know how I should address him…Prince? Your Royal Highness?

Wait a minute…First of all, I can’t believe you never told me this story before! Second: so, what did you call him?

Well, I don’t think I called him anything at all. I just got on with the examination.

And how did he do?!

He was very nervous! His French was not bad, but his German was hopeless! For some reason he got onto the topic of wine-making, but he couldn’t remember the word for grapes in German so he kept referring to them as “little black balls”!

We stopped in a newly-opened café in Porthmadog.

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Hot cocoa for a change of pace!

The proprietor came over to ask us a favor…”I can tell you’re not from around here, and as we just opened today, I was wondering if you could put a pin on our map to show where you’re from.”

So there you go…a little piece of Charlottesville in Porthmadog, Wales. IMG_0921

We’ve been back home in Charlottesville for a couple weeks now. Yesterday our one missing suitcase was finally delivered to our doorstep!

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With the last bit of our belongings safely back in Charlottesville, and my last U.K. story posted, that lovely interlude has now really ended. I will remember the glorious walks, the beautiful scenery, and the ghastly weather. Most of all, I’ll remember the precious time spent with family, who – while far away – are ever close to our hearts.

Cwm Idwal in the Ogwen Valley

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From the cultivated beauty of Bodnant Garden, we drove on to the wild beauty of Cwm Idwal…IMG_4450IMG_4452IMG_4458A stone path guided our steps…IMG_4466IMG_4465IMG_4488IMG_4494

…to a lake:

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It was a bit windy…

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Actually, it was CRAZY windy!
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Brooding Heathcliff moment.

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No brooding here. This is the face of a man in his element.