If you haven't gone to Salem on Halloween, I highly recommend you try at least once in your life. The weather was great. The place was gorgeous. The people were friendly. The drive was fantastic. Oh, and did I mention the weather? This is an extremely important part of the journey, mind you. You'll understand in a moment or several. So there we were, beaten down by the everyday chores that come with being adults. You know, that horrible thing called responsibilities. Plus, with it being so long since that '04 trip, we knew that another vacation was well overdo. Well, now that we're back from this latest one (we got back Aug 3, 11), I have to report, unlike every other vaca we've taken in the past, this time, there were a few bumps along the way.
Hold on. Did I say bumps? I meant FREAKIN' ROAD BLOCKS! Seriously, it was like a cacophony of voices rising from the belly of the universe, all of them shouting as one, "DID YOU HONESTLY THINK THIS WAS GOING TO BE LIKE YOUR OTHER VACATIONS, Cindy?". Of course that was followed by a resounding and quite sinister laugh that reached into my gut and held on for dear life, while we stood there, helpless, wondering why oh why were being punished in such a way.
Clearly, in order to fully appreciate this calamity that left us feeling like the stars of a satirical show about Murphy's Law, let me take a step back for a moment.
See, it all began when my mother in law wanted to go to the Dominican Republic for a week and lay out on the beach, doing nothing but basking in the sun with a margarita and a hat big enough to smuggle a small town across the border.
Now, as most of you might have guessed by my picture, I'm not exactly the poster child for fun in the sun, and neither is my hubby. Nope, we're both whiter than Casper's ghostly butt, and with good reason. The sun sucks! It's hot, it's bright, and it causes vast amounts of regret in the form of burns, blisters and an unnatural kinship with lobsters.
Needless to say, the plans changed. No beaches for us, no sir. We wanted adventure, excitement, cities. A major break from Miami Lakes, our monotonous suburban prison. We had always wanted to go to Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and ever since our first trip to NYC, we were desperate to go back there. So, we said, why not go to all three? And that was that. I spent two weeks squealing, looking at hotels, squealing some more, researching DC and Philly (didn't need to for NYC), and booking hotels in all three cities, plus a hotel in Upstate NY as well.
It was going to be an AMAZING trip!
And then, as the news report broke one day, a few before our departure, we stood there, horrified as the reporters informed us of a heat wave that has just rolled in and taken over a big part of the Northeast like a sadistic Dominatrix. Namely, DC, Philly, and NYC, among others. Yup, in a twist of irony, that fickle b***h, every city we were planning on going to had all been taken hostage, with record breaking highs and mounting heat-related deaths.
"Hopefully, it'll pass before we get there," my hubby said to me, with a look in his eye that told me he didn't buy it for a second.
And so we held our breaths and crossed our fingers. Hell, in ritualistic animal sacrifice fashion, we were tempted to offer up an ant of two to the sun gods, praying for a break in its evil plan. It goes without saying that the day we arrived in DC, it was over a hundred degrees and rising.
We flew Jetblue Airways, a great company that offered comfy seats and unlimited snacks, unlike other companies that operate under the belief that this world is dominated by 2-foot tall humans with no legs and no need for that thing called comfort. But, don't be fooled as I was by Jetblue's promise of unlimited snacks, as their idea of unlimited snacks comes in the form of the flight attendants going up and down the aisle asking every person what they want from the basket of 5 options of teensy gesture packets of chips and cookies, which took so long that by the time he came around again, we were landing.
We rented a car from Dollar Rent a Car. It was a Grand Marquis, and let me tell you, what a piece of crap that car was! And the company! I'll never rent from them again! I returned the car two hours later, and went to the Reagan Airport to get another one from a different company. We wanted a van, so naturally, not a single company had one. We wound up with a Camry, which I LOVE, and we were off....after four hours, that is! Two hours after that, we made it to the hotel, which was a few miles away from the airport. Yup, we got lost! That was fun. My temper was right up there with the heat index by the time we finally got back.
We stayed in a hotel in breath-taking Alexandria, VA, about five miles outside DC. It was the Hampton Inn Alexandria, and it was amazing. The service, the food, the staff, and the location were all fantastic! Not to mention all the welcome freshly-baked cookies. WooHoo, let the vaca begin.
When we left the hotel the next morning, however, my enthusiasm kinda did this fingers-crossed thing when we saw that it was about 105 degrees, and it was only eight-thirty. By ten in the morning it was clearly still on the rise. But, sun damage be damned! We had six days there, and we were on a mission to take on DC, hoping to get a glimpse of the touristy things our nation's famous for. You know, those hot spots for corruption, pocket-lining, lies, betrayal and a slew of illegal activities that run our country into the ground on a daily basis.
Now, in order to full enjoy this visit to DC, I wanted to make sure I had plenty of energy during the vaca, so I took a mountain of those little 5-hr energy drinks with us. Well, the day we went to tour the Capitol, we were told no drinks or liquids were permitted in the building. So, on the heels of downing one of the drinks a hour before, my hubby and I each had to consume two more, because I had brought four with me for the day. That was fun. We zipped through that short, uninspiring, and ultimately lack-luster tour of two rooms that I could have easily seen more of online than in person, all the while, jittery, bouncy and wishing to all hell that the tour-guide himself had taken a shot of that little bottle of energetic gold.
Let me just say one thing about DC. It is undoubtedly gorgeous. But, that said, it is NOT a touristy place. Everything is closed to the public. The Washington Monument is like a a giant spike in the ground. The Lincoln Memorial looks like he's wondering why all these people at gathering at his marble feet with cameras. And the White House was nothing more than a little white spec on an ocean of grass. All I could think was, "THAT's it?"
Then there's the fact that in DC, everything is a mile from everything else, so though it's called a walking town, those who call it that are not referring to a nice place to walk. No, walking is mandatory because of the lack of parking, the amount of people and the distance between entrances to place and the places themselves. Can you imagine how much fun that was in 108+ degree weather with no sign of impending cloud cover to protect us from the evil sun?
To sum up our stay in DC, sadly, two days into our 12-night journey, I must have eaten something that insisted it become a souvenir, as my feet and ankles swelled up like sausages, hurt like freakin hell, made walking a lot more "interesting" and took my left knee along for the ride, as it swelled it too. Add in sweltering heat, an ungodly lumpy bed in our hotel room, a severe lack of sleep and throw in miles and miles of attractions no on can get anywhere near because of security measures and you have...DC. Fun times!
Six days later, we left the DC area and drove to Philly, where we stayed for two nights. Philly was also gorgeous, but again, hot as hell. Not as hot as DC, mind you, but still hot enough to cook on egg on the pavement, which some reporter was kind enough to demonstrate for his viewers. But I swear it was like he was looking right at me through the microscopic flat panel tv-like thing in our hotel room. We stayed at a Wingate Hotel, and this time, the food in the hotel was atrocious, and the service was cold, unlike the friendly service at the previous hotel.
One of the coolest things we saw…don’t you dare laugh…was a employee of the PPA, the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Nerd alert, I know. But see, you have to understand this in context. I’d been watching a marathon (all 59 episodes) of Parking Wars, which I loved! So it was cool to see one of the folks from the show there, walking about like on the show, giving out parking tickets, like on the show. Hey, I’m easy to please, you know.
Anyhoo, during our stay in Philly, I wanted to go to Lancaster, to see Amish Country.
It took forever to get there, and when we did, it was stunning! Fields of farms and rolling hills, and land and mountains, and just breathtaking views everywhere. But, after a few hours of it, I was done. I was in search of civilization, and it took forever and a week to find our way out of Lancaster. I swear, every time I saw another farm, I wanted to scream, “Someone, PLEASE, show me the way out of here!” We managed to get back to the hotel, with no help from any gas station, as it seems that little thing called a map can now only be found at a travel museum.
When we left Philly, we drove to Upstate New York, to a place called Tarrytown, near White Plains, and two hiccups away from Sleepy Hollow.
That was WOW! The hotel was on a mountain that overlooked other mountains, and it was STUNNING! There was a fireplace in the breakfast area, friendly service, and the food was good. The bed was comfy, with those mega-soft hotel sheets I love. The towns there were amazing. Oh, and it rained. Can’t have one thing NOT go wrong in every one of the cities we were going to, no sir.
Our next stop was our dream town: NYC. Manhattan, Baby. We stayed in the Best Western Bowery Hanbee Hotel in Chinatown. It was really great. Though, when we got there, we noticed it was a little hot in the room, so we informed the staff, who promised it would be corrected by morning. Well, in the morning, they came to our room to tell us that they were upgrading us to a King Suite, so the repairs wouldn’t disturb us. The new room was AWESOME! It had a living area, a dining table, two tv’s with remotes that never worked, a massive bed with soft sheets, and a great view. LOVED IT!
Chinatown was “interesting”. Smelled like fish and garbage, but hey, it made for great memories. It was hotter there than in DC, by the way, and the heat wave seemed insistent on vacationing with us, as we learned that it would be breaking by the day we were to leave. We stayed in NYC for four nights and five days. I have to say, it wasn't exactly the same experience as our last trip to NYC. Nope. Last time, the city was clean, the subways were clean and working and the place was crawling with street performers.
This time, though, every thing was filthy, half the subways in the city with one of the best transit systems, were closed, which made every jaunt from place to place take hours longer, as we had to keep transferring from train to train, and it seemed not a single New Yorker ever knew which one we had to take to get here or there. Again. buckets of fun and time spent in the now-smelly, hot and beyond-filthy subways, going up and down the stairs, adding to the sweat-infused air of urban travel.
While in the city, we took a double decker tour with the Greyline Bus, where it turned out, I had family working. They hooked us up with free tickets on all the bus tours there. I was dying to see my family, but, as our good luck kept following us, when we went to the Wax Museum in Times Square, I twisted my already-bad knee, and limped the rest of our stay in my favorite city in the world. I felt horrible about not being able to see my cousins, but they understood. Thank you Cathy and Sergio. The night before we came back, we took the night tour of NYC. OMG! If you ever go, take that tour! It takes you across the bridge into Brooklyn, and you see ALL of Manhattan reflecting off the water. It was like being in a screensaver.
So that’s it. We were gone for 12 nights and 13 days. We went to DC, Philly, Upstate NY, Lancaster, oh, and we went to Baltimore (how could I forget), Virginia, and NYC. It was an exhausting trip, fraught with swollen feet, even more swollen ankles, a twisted and swollen knee, blistering heat, a constant need for directions, closed subways, a million stairs to and from working subways, the smell of fish and garbage right outside our hotel in Chinatown, bad food, good food, lumpy beds, a lack of sleep, a crappy car, a great car, gesture-snacks on the flights. But, you know what, despite all those bumps in the road, we had a great time. It was a little like life, in a way. You can make your plans and hope for the best, but in the end, who knows what’ll actually happen, and the truth is, the unplanned can sometimes be more memorable than the planned path ahead.
I will say this, I was dying to get back, and when we did, it felt like we’d been gone for years. It was so strange. It was like we were in a stranger’s home. It never looked more beautiful. It never felt so comfortable. And it never felt better to be back. I guess it’s true what some say. The best part of a vacation is coming home. And this time, it was.