Best of 2009: Trip

Note: I’m participating in Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 Blog Challenge. Read more about it here.

For today’s entry in the Best of 2009 Blog Challenge, I’m describing the best trip I took in 2009. I haven’t traveled a lot this year, so I’m including in-town excursions such as…

Post-Valentine’s Day “Staycation” (February 15 — February 17): Okay, so I only got as far as downtown. But what a lovely, low key escape at the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago on Michigan Avenue. Mainly I ordered room service, surfed the web, and watched a lot of basic cable on my flatscreen tv. I may have nipped out a few times for jaunts through nearby Millennium Park. And for sure I had sushi at Oysy, my favorite sushi joint downtown.

Independence Day at Swissôtel (July 1 — July 8 ): Through an internet-only special, I got an inexpensive room with a Chicago River view at the Swissôtel Chicago. Free wi-fi would have been nice, but nicer business-class hotels just aren’t trying to do that for me. A college friend ended up coming in to stay with me during that time, and we had a blast catching up all over town. Some of the best times we had, though, were staying in, ordering takeout from Heaven on Seven to enjoy on our obscenely comfortable beds or taking advantage of the pool in the health center.

I left town three times this year, with all but one of those excursions being for weddings. Will this period of my life ever end? I hope not. I love getting shopping for wedding presents, figuring out what to wear, and wondering what the favors will be. Christine and Marshall in Bryan, Ohio gave their guests chocolates, while Olivia and Emmanuel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania had… chocolates!

I think, though, my favorite trip was Spring Break 2009, a trip I made to my hometown, New York City. Lately, I’ve not been a fan of flying. For my April week in New York, I actually bought a plane ticket that I cancelled the same day because the idea of flying made my stomach flip. I paid the same fare for a round trip ticket between Chicago’s Union Station and New York’s Penn Station on the Lake Shore Limited. I’d ridden this same route years ago when I first came to Chicago for college. 20 hours each way in a coach seat couldn’t be so bad, could it? True, I wasn’t 18 anymore, but the seats in coach reclined and I had hours of DVDs to watch on my laptop.

What I didn’t have were noise-canceling headphones to block out the guys who talked loudly late into the night, or an extra pillow to make the seat more bed-like. I ended up forking over extra money to get a roommette, a tiny 2-bed compartment with private sink and toilet in one of the train’s sleeper cars.

My roomette

I balked at the price at first, but then reconsidered. The price included turndown and wakeup service from a friendly sleeper car attendant, free meals in the dining car, access to a shared shower (which I used on the way back to Chicago from New York), free newspaper, free drinks in a galley kitchen between meals, and did I mention I got my own bed to myself? I was rocked to sleep by the rumbling of the train as we sped through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Upstate New York. Upstate was amazing. When I wasn’t snapping pictures of train stations that had seen better days, I was gawking at the beauty of the Hudson River Valley.

Once in New York, I spent my days enjoying the impossibly wonderful spring weather (spring hadn’t yet sprung in the Windy City) and my evenings catching up with friends and family. My friend Michelle’s apartment in East Harlem was my base for the first four days, easily accessible to the trains I needed to attend my 15th high school reunion on the Upper East Side and get to friends who lived in Chinatown.

lanterns in a Chinatown street

I always complained about never seeing celebs while growing up, so it was gratifying to see Rachel McAdams and Josh Lucas eating brunch at Les Enfants Terribles, Michelle’s favorite downtown restaurant. I completed my celebrity trifecta on the last day of my trip. I’d checked into The Jane for the last two days of my trip, spending $99/night on a hotel so hip that it made up for the tiny rooms and shared bathrooms. I know at that price I’ve no right to complain, and the hotel staff could not have been friendlier, and the neighborhood (far West Village, just below the still fabulous? Meatpacking District) could not have been more beautiful, but weird old men wearing only towels as they stumble into their not-yet-taken-over-by-the-hotel rooms creeped me out.

But back to where I was going. I made Maria (who was between gigs during my trip and therefore spent a lot of time hanging out with me) meet me at at Sant Ambroeus for very fabulous breakfast. We sat outside, drank our cappucinos and watched the rich and fabulous inhabitants of the West Village idle past. Some yuppie parents with purebred dogs. A nanny or two. Lou Reed. Lou Reed! He sat at the table behind us and conducted business with two older gentleman. Maria and I pretended that we were cool while we tried to eavesdrop as much as we could on their conversation.

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