We went to New York!

Last week, Gloria, Martha, and I took our first official family vacation. It was great!

the view from the ferry

We took the Trans-Bridge bus to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The ride was fine, especially for Martha, who found that the girl across the aisle was also going to go to American Girl Place. They compared dolls for a bit and had a nice time. We got to the terminal around noon, and enjoyed a pretty good walk from the station to our hotel at E. 34th and Lex. We dumped our bags and headed out into Little India. Lunch was… well, it was okay. I’m sure we could do better next time, but at least the naan was good. (I am a sucker for naan.) Once we got checked in, we headed down to Madison Square Park, because I was longing for Shake Shack. The park was nuts. The India Day Parade happened that day, and it seemed like it must have terminated at the park. Oodles of people (including kids) were everywhere, and Martha had a great time at the playground.

She didn’t enjoy dinner, though. She didn’t get a burger and shake, but a hot dog and grape soda. Neither met with her approval. “Next time,” I told her, “you’ll get what I get.” My coffee shake and burger were great.

Monday was our first big action-filled day. We headed out for the American Girl Place store and stopped for bagels on the way. They were fine, although the service stank. The store was great, though, because it was pretty empty. They opened an hour early (for some unknown reason) that week, and I think we beat all the people who hadn’t read the special hours. Martha had a great time and, when we told her she couldn’t have a doll, decided all she wanted was a pair of glasses and a pair of shoes. This was cheap, so we also got her some more LEGO Friends at FAO Schwartz. We also hit Nintendo World, which we all enjoyed. They had a bunch of cases of cool memorabilia that was not for sale. Bummer! (Gloria got photos!)

At FAO Schwartz we also bought tickets for the Central Park Zoo, which was fun and nice and small. We got lunch (Indigo Indian) and then went to “The Dinosaur Bone” museum. Martha had fun, but later declared it all boring. I think she was mostly bored by the planetarium show, which was not their best. She had had fun looking at the bones, but I felt like we were pretty rushed, trying to get them all in before the planetarium. Also, the place was jam-packed as usual. Still, I think we all had a good time.

Exhausted, we headed back to Murray Hill and the Murray Hill Diner… which I do not recommend. The food was adequate and the prices were sort of nuts. Not only were they too high (even for NYC) but they made no sense. You could order the same items in two slightly different configurations and get a vastly different price. Bah!

Martha was delighted that our hotel had a bath tub, as the last time we stayed in a hotel, it didn’t

Tuesday was maybe even busier. We started with breakfast at Times Square Deli, inexplicably located at 33rd and Madison. It was cheap and good, and the staff were really nice. From there, we took the subway to Battery Park. Martha was excited to take the train, but as soon as we got through the turnstile she became terrified and wanted to leave. We mercilessly forced her to board the train and after a stop or two it was old hat. “I feel like I live in New York!” she told us, for the umpteenth time.

We went to Battery Park to catch the Staten Island ferry, which we did. It was very nice, especially with the cool breeze, but Martha really wanted to stay inside for much of the ride, which meant the view wasn’t all it could’ve been. Still, it was great, and you can’t beat the price.

From Battery Park, we began our quest for playgrounds — but not until we’d gotten some hot nuts and Cuban food at Sophie’s. This involved walking through Occupy Wall Street, where I felt bad for the cops who were just standing there accepting a long, angry stream of obscenity from Some Guy. I also felt bad for Martha, who declared that he was scary. Martha is basically scared of nothing, but that guy was a pretty reasonable thing to fear.

Our first playground was the Imagination Playground at South Street Seaport. It was great! Lots of parks in NYC have shade, which not enough parks in the Lehigh Valley have. Martha played in the sand, mostly. She was very into sand, this trip. From there, we caught a train to Brooklyn and went to the Pier 6 playground, which David Golden had recommended. This was an excellent recommendation. It was really a complex of a half dozen distinct, themed playgrounds. Martha only played in a few of them, and it seemed like the sort of place you could spend a whole day, especially if you brought a picnic lunch. Unfortunately, some kid dumped about a half gallon of sand onto Martha’s head. She didn’t seem to mind at all, but it was a mess. Gloria got her mostly cleaned up, but plenty of sand was still coming off of her in the bath.

We tried to go to the amazing ice cream place that David Golden had taken me when I visited him last — Ample Hills — but I forgot its name again and we went to Blue Marble. It was adequate, but not great.

Our friend John Randolph was long a vegan and had sent us a bunch of recommendations for places to go for good vegan food in the East Village, and it seemed like we were in a great place from which to launch some sorties to them. We went to Baby Cakes and Gloria and Martha got some cupcakes. (They seemed to be a hit.) We got dinner at Atlas Café. I enjoyed it, and Gloria was over the moon. She’d been suffering quite a bit from separation from kale and other delicious green things, and she was positively glowing when we left. They got an extra star from me for making a $2 PB&J for Martha.

Also, you can get Orangina almost everywhere in NYC? What’s up with that? Why can’t I get it everywhere here?

We didn’t get to Lulu’s for vegan ice cream, but we did make it to Pommes Frites for Belgian fries. They were pretty good, but not fantastic. Certainly I’d go there again, though. I dipped most of mine in smoked eggplant mayo, and that was great. John had plans for the evening, but managed to meet us on 2nd Avenue for a quick chat before directing us to the subway. We made it back to the hotel in time to buy some popcorn, make it, and eat it while watching the new episode of Adventure Time, Lady & Peebles.

(Martha was finding the idea of a Roku-and-TiVo-less TV strange and unpleasant, and I agreed. It was nice, though, to have a scheduled show to look forward to through the day.)

I also picked up a six pack of “ginger root beer.” It sounded better than it was, possibly because of the (ugh) stevia.

Wednesday we went to Times Square Deli again, and to the top of the Empire State Buliding. The ESB was deserted when we arrived. We basically waltzed right in to the 86th floor. Getting there before nine o’clock was a good idea… I think. See, it was really hazy up there, and I’m not sure whether every morning is like that or whether I should’ve been checking some online haze-o-meter. Still, I really enjoyed it.

We arranged to have lunch with David Adler, and that meant we wanted to hurry up to get to MOMA to get in some viewing before we had to leave for the Village. We caught… a cab! Martha was tickled, and criticized my cab-calling technique. (She thought I should’ve yelled “TAXI!”) MOMA was great. Martha panicked me by running at a Picasso while windmilling her arms, but she was really good as gold. I enjoyed being reminded how much I like Picasso (and others) in person, when I don’t really care for them in pictures. We saw the Quay Brothers exhibit, briefly, and it was fascinating. Martha loved the “Materials Lab” where she could, finally touch stuff.

We met David at the Essex Street Market to eat at Shopsins and had a long wait, only to be kicked out because they didn’t want to tell us whether their salads were vegan. I’ve never understood the idea that abuse can add to the charm of a place. From there, we went in search of another venue — slightly complicated because Martha was starving for, specifically, a pancake. I don’t remember where we ended up, but it was good. On the long walk back to the subway, David patiently listened to Martha’s long, detailed explanation of the Bratz cartoons. I urged her to talk about something else, but she’d have none of it. David was a sport.

The three of us had no questions about where to go next. We went right back to MOMA, and did not regret it. The sixth floor had a large exhibit about child-oriented design over the last century, and it was fascinating. We really liked the giant high chair, too. Went went back to the Quay Brothers and the Materials lab, and were there almost until they closed. My energy levels were getting pretty low, but we’d promised more playground time, and we were both interested in the “rustic” playground we’d read about, so we headed uptown to 67th Street and the “Billy Johnson Rustic Playground.” Martha had a blast, again, and I stupidly forgot to get any photos of Gloria and Martha co-sliding down the big stone slide.

We still weren’t done! We headed east to Dylan’s Candy Bar, which was sort of disappointing. It was fun, but everything was pretty traditional. I had hoped to find a few unusual things worth trying, and maybe I would have if the place had been less crowded. Martha’s sole request was for a 25¢ gumball, and the request was granted.

I was interested in continuing our run of “dinner out” but the idea of walking almost anywhere else was not a welcome one. We’d been told to definitely try “Chinese Mirch,” but I just didn’t feel up to it. Instead, we went to the Barking Dog, a little neighborhood bar and restaurant that shared a wall with the hotel. It was just fine, and I got my only vacation beer: a Brooklyn Lager.

Thursday, it was time to come home. There was still plenty of stuff we could’ve done, of course, but I think we were all out of energy for it. It just means we’ll have to go again.

We went to the Times Square Deli again, and I made good on an earlier promise to let Martha just eat rice pudding. (I had to finish it for her, because it was an enormous serving, and I have since eaten a lot of rice pudding at home. Once I finish my last cup, I think I will be done with it for a while, but it has all been a treat.) We made a trip to The Compleat Strategist. I would never have remembered it was nearby if Abigail hadn’t reminded me. The place was really cool, and if I’d had unlimited funds, reading time, shelf space, and luggage space, I might’ve spend a lot of money. Instead, I picked up a copy of the pocket edition of Traveller. I felt pretty good about that choice, too.

We walked uptown to 45th… or, rather, Gloria and I walked while Gloria carried Martha on her back. I was having a hard enough time keeping up the pace with our gym bag of clothes. I’m glad it wasn’t a wriggly exothermic child, or I might not have made it. Martha would’ve been fine with that, though. She really wanted to ride another cab.

We got lunch with cousins Emily and John at Naples 45, and it was great. I got a personal pizza with capers, anchovies, and black olives. I was especially pleased that Martha ate some of it (after I took off all the toppings). From there, it was a pretty short walk crosstown to the bus terminal, but we were pretty beat, and enjoyed a short break halfway to eat more hot nuts in Bryant Park. My suggestion to my future self: next time, stick to cashews or maybe almonds. The hot peanuts and coconut are not worth it.

The bus ride home was pleasantly uneventful, and we decided that since vacation wasn’t over until we’d slept once at home, we’d do one last super-easy dinner out. We went to the local Chinese buffet, a place that can always be counted on to be completely adequate, and had a completely adequate dinner. (To be honest, I always enjoy that place, because I can load up on string beans.)

The trip was a big success, and I think we’ll definitely do it again sometime. I think we’d be happy going back to Manhattan for more exploring, but there are plenty of other good places to go for future jaunts: Philly, Boston, and who knows where else? I look forward to figuring out where to go next.

Written on August 29, 2012