Sunday, September 11, 2016

USA Part 2: The Big Apple

I like living in Brisbane.  At least I did, until literally every single person we ever knew here moved away.  There must be some fatal flaw about this place that Martin and I don't see, that everybody else does, which causes them to flee at the first chance.

This is the reason I decided to visit New York City after my trip home.  If I want to see my friends I need to travel to see them, because they sure don't live where I do [anymore].

L-R: Olena, Caecilie, Pia, Allie
Working woman not pictured: Laura
Olena flew in from Toronto, Pia and Allie Amtrak'd in from Pennsylvania, just to visit little 'ol me.  Here we are loitering in an icy cold bar, seeking refuge from the ("feels like") 108 degree heat outside.  Oh my sweet baby Jesus it was hot in NYC.  Way too hot!

Caecilie isn't a Brisbane refugee like the rest of them; she was a classmate of Martin's in Edinburgh and we went to her wedding last summer in Germany.  In fact, she had to cut our weekend together short because she was going away for her first wedding anniversary.

After arriving to her place at 3 a.m. (thanks, Delta!) we got up bright and early the next morning and made the obligatory first stop in NYC:

My god the amount of cream cheese they slather on these things is shocking!  There is really no need to go that overboard, though make no mistake, it was definitely delicious.

I wanted to see the 9/11 site/memorial, so once we were properly caffeinated and carbo loaded Caecilie suggested we rent Citibikes and take the scenic route along the Hudson River.

I didn't go into the museum, but I intend to one day when I have more time.  We just walked around the public memorial.

Caecilie said that on the birthday of the deceased they stick a flower into their name on the memorial.  I had to look up the guy in the photo there, to see if it's true.  Yep, it is.  I was there on August 11, and that was the birthday of Ronald D. Milam.  He was 33 when he died.  I was 18 at the time but am 33 now, same as he was.  He was a major in the Army working in the Pentagon, and his wife worked for the Air Force in another part of the Pentagon.  They had a kid and she was 5 months pregnant at the time, and that kid is now 14.  This article about them was published just 2 days ago, small world!  A knife to the gut, yes, but I wanted to pay a little respect to the person behind the one legible name I randomly got in a picture.

Did you know there is a tree right at Ground Zero that survived that day?  They call it The Survivor Tree:

I didn't know this until I noticed it had a security guard and tourist information guide dedicated just for it.  It's so close, probably 50 feet (15 meters).

One World Trade Center
a.k.a. Freedom Tower
My first and only other trip to NYC was in 1999 as part of a youth pilgrimage to the United Nations.  I was 16 years old, just a baby!  In our infinite stupidity we had the opportunity to go up to the top of one of the World Trade Center towers but declined because we couldn't be bothered.  So it goes.

Caecilie lives in Chelsea, so we took a stroll through the Chelsea High Line, an "aerial greenway", which is an elevated train track that was turned into a garden when the trains were decommissioned.

You can even see the Statue of Liberty at one point!

But that's as close as I got to Lady Liberty on this trip.  I went to Liberty Island (but not up the statue) on my first trip to New York and don't expect to ever go there again.  Too many tourists!

We also went to the Chelsea Market, which is blessedly indoors and offers slight refuge from the heat.

Olena and I shared a super delish lobster roll:

We shared because 1) we weren't all that hungry and 2) that sucker was $18 which is like $24 Australian, and that's just a ridiculous sum to pay for a small sandwich.  But it was awesome!

For lunch that day we went to an iconic (read: touristy) restaurant made famous by the movie When Harry Met Sally, Katz's Deli:

They've even pinpointed exactly which table they were sitting at during the infamous "I'll have what she's having" scene.

It's tourist priced, yes, but the amount of food is nothing short of obscene.  One sandwich can feed two, if not three, people:

This being a Jewish deli in NYC, I went for a pastrami sandwich (with cheese and sauerkraut, no mustard or pickle):

I shared it and it was more than enough food!  Because it was almost a pound of solid meat it kept us full for the whole day.  Literally, we didn't even bother with dinner!

I love musical theater, so as soon as my trip was confirmed months prior, I immediately booked tickets to this:

It was hilarious!  I highly recommend it if you ever get the chance to see it.  If I lived in New York I'd demand to go to a show minimum once per month.  Broadway is the one and only reason I'd ever care to live in New York!

Despite being a foodie (by which I just mean fat ass) I'd never in my life eaten chicken & waffles before.  My #1 priority for this trip was to remedy that situation, so we hauled ass from Manhattan to the hipster mecca Brooklyn to get a taste of the sweet stuff at a place called Pies 'n Thighs.

I added a side of grits to my chicken 'n waffles, because why not go whole hog when pretending we're in the south?

It did not disappoint!  Really, though, it was too damn hot to enjoy any food 100%.  The real winner of our brunch was a Toaster Strudel doughnut, which we split 4 ways.

I could eat 2 of these myself, easily and without guilt.  The heat did not hinder my enjoyment of this one bit.

Allie used to work at the Brooklyn Museum, so wanted to return to her old stomping grounds and got us in for free.  Was I interested in visiting the Brooklyn Museum, particularly in place of legends like The Met or Guggenheim?  No I was not.  But was I interested in being in well air conditioned indoors?  Hell yes I was!

This being hipster central it say the least.  For example, these were 50 table place settings, each one different and an artistic rendition of...a vagina:

I stupidly didn't get any up close and personal pictures, but just imagine a vagina.  Now think of something that looks completely opposite of one, and that's what the table settings looked like.  It's "art".

The most intriguing art installation was not within the exhibits but out in the foyer at a kiosk selling snacks and drinks:

This drinks fridge included: V8, Red Bull, mayonaise, peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, two types of beer, Alpo dog food, cream of celery soup and canned peas.  And the Safeway sign was defaced to say Satan.

What the hell?!  The mayonnaise is what shocked and horrified me the most.  Seriously, these hipsters are too much!  Who needs mayonnaise from the lobby of an art museum?  It makes no sense!

We spent the afternoon at Nordstrom Rack, which is amazing and an absolute zoo.  Nordstrom Rack is like TJ Maxx, but way bigger and way better.  I loooove TJ Maxx and besides chicken & waffles was my other NYC bucket list item.  I wish I could do all my shopping there!

Finally the weekend arrived and Laura, recent new resident of Astoria, Queens was able to join us for the festivities.

We keep it classy in Little Italy!  We enjoyed the evening eating pasta, enjoying all being back together and getting drunk.

To cure our hangover the next day we tried, and ultimately failed, to be super local and enjoy a gigantic New York slice for lunch.

Except we probably should've split one slice between all five of us.  It was so big!  And the heat of the pizza ovens made it near impossible to breathe, much less eat.

So much wasted pizza that day.  RIP.

Pia and Allie had to get to their Amtrak so this is where we parted ways.  They were very, very pleased to be getting the hell away from New York heat, but I'd like to think sad to be leaving me and our big city exploits!

My Old Man is an old car fanatic, and he really wanted some shots of the Chrysler building, so we Uber'd downtown to get there and check it out.

Pro tip: If you want to get pictures of a building it's best not to be directly at the base of that building.  But I got enough shots keep my pops happy, I think.

Our next stop was Central Park, but since we were in the 'hood we saved ourselves a few blocks of walking and went to Grand Central station to hop on the metro.

It's really ornate and beautiful in there!  I recommend you swing by even if you don't plan to transit anywhere.

We got about 100 yards into Central Park.

And lasted all of 20 minutes.  Too damn hot!  Luckily Laura & BJ have central air back in Queens.  Which is exactly the type of thing that made them chose to live in Queens instead of Manhattan (the two other places I stayed in Manhattan had no air conditioning or in-unit laundry - no way to live).

We spent my last evening enjoying the NYC skyline from their awesome rooftop.

Enjoying a few free Budweisers, or "America" as they are temporarily now called, since Laura works for the company that makes them, what you would know as Anheuser-Busch (but is now more complicated than that).

When the sun goes down it's like a fog of misery clears and you can actually start to breathe again.  Breathe and eat!

For dinner we went to Eataly, which is similar to the Chelsea Market in that there are lots of different things under one roof, but the options are limited to Italian food.  Not that I'm complaining!

The next morning, in the time before Olena and I flew out (from different airports) we took a stroll through Astoria to see what the borough of Queens had to offer.

It's really lovely!  And exceedingly livable.  The commute to Manhattan isn't bad, either.  BJ picked up a handy new item (from the sidewalk, of course, this being BJ):

Another handy new item, I should say, since they already have one.  These carts are used by all New Yorkers, it seems, since car ownership is non-existent and sometimes you just have to buy heavy stuff and haul it home.  They even make trips to Costco with this thing!  That impressed me.  Owning two will no doubt double their purchasing capacity.

Sadly, it was time to leave New York.  Well, I was sad to leave my friends, not sad to leave the blazing inferno that is a crowded city.  I was longing to return to the delightful winter weather of Brisbane.  By that point I would have been happy to fly directly to Antarctica and dive headfirst naked into a snowbank.  Jesus Christ it was miserably hot.  The entire time.  No respite.  I cannot stress that enough, or reiterate that I will never, ever be returning in summer.  I'd love to go again in winter, or better yet, fall.  But never again in summer!  The cruel irony is that it's only really hot for one or two weeks each summer, and I hit the jackpot with my visit.  But still, never again [in summer].  Never.

I was super excited to get to the airport and spend some quality eating time at this famed place:

Shake Shack is an east coast institution, which I'd never been to before so had to seize the opportunity.  I had studied the airport map beforehand so knew exactly where to find it, and made a bee line there after using my fabulous TSA Pre-Check to get through security in 5 minutes.  I am evangelical about TSA Pre-Check after using it for two domestic flights.  There is literally no other way to fly if you must suffer the indignity of flying domestically in the USA.  Five minute security at JFK airport in the middle of August?  P-R-I-C-E-L-E-S-S.

But I'm here to talk about delicious, high quality fast food, not the horrors of air travel in America (at least not yet).  The chicken burger, rather than traditional beef, was recommended to me so that's what I went for, with fries and a strawberry shake (to my sister who thinks chocolate shakes are better than strawberry: bite me).

It was delicious!  Airport prices made it more expensive than is acceptable for fast food, but I will definitely be hitting up this local favorite the next time I am on the east coast.  I wasn't particularly hungry when I sat down to my 1,000 calorie meal but Shake Shack has absolutely earned their reputation.

Time to board the airplane!  Off to Los Angeles I go, about a six hour flight, then onto Australia, which is double that.

Or not.  None of that was happening for a very, very, very long time.  Very long time.

But I'll save that terrifying tale for another post.

For now I will bid farewell to New York, biggest city in the US of A, hottest place outside the center of the sun, home of two friends.  It's been 16 years since my last visit and if I stay on my current timeline I'll see you in 2032, when I'm 49.

Just not in summer!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

USA Part 1: Home Sweet Home

The last time I visited home was in 2014, when my sister birthed two babies at once.  That same sister, clearly crazier than a shit house rat, went ahead and did it again, just two weeks shy of two years later!

General Myles
But this time only one came out.  Myles, or General Myles as Martin calls him for no apparent reason but it's catchy so the name stuck, is the first male to be born in our lineage in 70 years, since my Old Man was born in 1946.  His presence has predictably been a hit!

Myles timed his entrance nicely, shortly before my beloved North Dakota State Fair.

The childhood magic is no longer there.  I can confirm being a grown-up does suck sometimes.  But let me tell you what, the food will never lose its luster!

Normally I go on a crash diet pre-USA trip, but I didn't this time, so I was able to handle the deluge of ridiculously unhealthy, deep fried grub better than previous trips.  Diabetes for all!

I love how farm-y the NDSF is.  Despite my upbringing I never fail to get a kick out of just how country it is!

Have you ever seen a teenage boy shave a goat's ass before?  No?  Well do I have a treat for you!

A state fair is really something all visitors to America should take in.  It's beyond fascinating!

While goat asses were high on my priority list for my trip home, I did have to make time for more important things, like spending time with my three nieces.

I didn't even get a picture of all the kids together because the twins move too fast; this screenshot of a Snapchat is the best I've got.

I wouldn't wish 2 year old twins on my worst enemy!  It's all fun and games when they're newborns, but shit gets real quick when they can walk and talk (and run and fight and talk back).  My crazy sister is an absolute rockstar at handling 3 kids under age 2.  Don't get me wrong, I love Dos Baby Girls, but I simultaneously fear and loath them.

This is the only picture I got of my whole family (with the notable exception of, um, me):

This sums us up quite nicely.  At the NDSF, shoving our faces, Kelli hogs the baby, Brynn makes faces at the camera.  We are a predictable bunch!

I love these kids so much!

But as I learned, the key to happiness is having mommy around to do the hard work...

After my weekend at the NDSF it was time for some proper farm life.

Crazy sister with all the kids built a (naturally, huge) house on a farm since the last time I was home.  I wanted to see it, plus it's a major, laborious endeavor for her to go anywhere so I made the trip for some down home fun.

It's a good thing, too, because on my first day visiting there was not one but two "cow emergencies" that required her immediate attention.

I was sleeping peacefully when Jenna burst into my room, laid General Myles down on the bed next to me, and said "You're in charge".

Holy shit.

It started out pretty chill.  The kids woke up.  I changed everyone out of their jammies.  Fed everyone.

Took a few selfies:

Parenting is easy!

And then...then it began.

At one point I look around and there is piss everywhere.  On the couch, puddled on the floor, visibly down the leg of one of their grey pants.  The outside dog who's not allowed in?  It's inside, pissing on the floor!

How did this even happen?!  I saw none of it.  I didn't know so much urine existed in the whole wide world, much less in this small domain that I was in charge of!

A valuable lesson was learned that day.  Just because there is a drawer full of big girl panties does not mean kids are potty trained and ready to wear them.  Always - always - err on the side of diapers!

Mercifully the real grown-ups eventually returned from their cow emergencies to relieve (rescue) me from my pee-soaked day in charge.  However farm work never ceases, especially with cows, so we packed up the kids and headed out to take care of some business:

Haha, don't worry, no cows were slain in full view of the kids.  Jeremy was helping them.

By administering antibiotics via dart gun.  Jeremy did all the work while Jenna and I stayed in the pickup and enjoyed a few beverages (a.k.a. roadies).

And took really, really good care of the kids.

I also learned how to drive a stick shift on their farm!  This is a skill I had attempted but never managed to perfect, but with the aid of [several] Michelob Ultras I can now officially declare myself a stick shift driving champ!  I am incredibly pleased with myself (but am nervous to try again without the aid of Michelob Ultra).

I then made a quick trip to my hometown for the two most important things on offer there:

& Chelsey
My parents still live there, and of course they take priority over (sweet, sweet) bingo and beers, but they come with me wherever I go in the state, so technically they don't count.

I don't often go this far down memory lane, but we busted out the old photo albums for some rockin' good LOLs:

It was so much fun!  I really had an awesome upbringing.  Damn youths just don't appreciate it until it's all gone.

Some, not all, of us found endless fun in a sack of potatoes:

The twins couldn't care less about TV; this is what entertains them.  Farm kids through and through!

Then it was time to go to Grand Forks, my college town and where my sister Kelli lives, to enjoy some one-on-one time with the older kids:

Brynn and her brother Spanky are only 5 days apart, so technically they, too, are twins.  Except one is a lazy, lazy mutt.

We love our Boston Terriers in our family!  

No trip to Grand Forks would be complete without a trip to The Kegs drive-in!

Besides that, I was more than happy to stay at Kelli's house the whole time and eat macaroni & cheese and her world famous chocolate chip cookies.  And Twizzlers!  So very many Twizzlers.  Do you not agree with me that all Americans can be divided into two groups, Twizzler Americans and Red Vine Americans?  I truly believe that!

The last stop on my Tour de NoDak was Fargo, where I got to spend one last weekend with my entire family at my favorite hotel on planet earth, the C'Mon Inn:

I don't know what it is, but there's something about that place that burrowed its way into my heart and hasn't ever come out.

There was also a little bit of this going on in Fargo:

Personally I feel it's way too early to be thinking about this sort of stuff, but it was my only opportunity to do the whole dress shopping thing with my nearest and dearest, so I had a few shopping sessions (despite being grossly overweight at the moment).  Though there were a few legit contenders I did not, in fact, say yes to the dress.

Stay tuned for the real deal in November 2017!

My last stop in the Midwest was the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN to visit my best friend from high school and fly out.  Well, attempt to fly out at least.  In reality I spent more time drinking champagne at the Escape Lounge, which I highly recommend by the way, than actually flying.

So I'm not complaining.  But long story short, traveling domestically in the U.S. is not worth the hassle.  You'll get the long story in my next post.

I've always said if I ever win the lottery my big purchase will be a house on Lake Minnetonka.

I stand by that statement.  It's just so beautiful and perfect there!

After 2.5 weeks with my friends and fam it was time to make my way eastward, to a place I hadn't been in half my life.  I squeezed a little side trip into my visit home, which I'd never thought to do before because I am obviously an idiot.

Two holidays for the price of one!