Brooklyn, Brooklyn Take Me In

There are train tickets and a hotel confirmation on my kitchen counter. Date: early March. Destination: Brooklyn.

Last year, right around this time we travelled to New York with friends for a birthday celebration. It was an amazing experience. The “main” birthday event was a trip to Brooklyn Brewery, but we stayed in Manhattan and caught the train over for the day. This time we’ll reverse that pattern. Spending the majority of our trip diving deeper into the borough that peaked our curiosity in a matter of hours. The one that whet our (figurative and literal) appetite for more. The one that felt a bit like home, away.

Here’s what I’m already excited about:

  • a return visit to Brooklyn Bowl (which I think I have now shamelessly linked to about 5,000 times on this blog . . .)
  • visiting Brooklyn Brew Shop and finding someone to personally thank for the amazing spent grain recipes on The Mash (holy Barley & Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars, Batman)
  • Checking out some of the coffee shops and restaurants documented here
  • Checking out more of the amazing-ness in Trust Neely’s Guide (which served us so well the first time)

Also, I can’t stop singing this in my head.

And it’s just the beginning – I have a whole month to plan. If you’re from Brooklyn or have spent more time there than me (*easy, since I was there less than 8 hours) leave me a comment and let me know what it is essential that I add to my list!

My Long-Standing Love Affair with Cities

I’m a city girl at heart and I’m not really quite sure how that happened. I grew up in a rural area and I loved it. The blue haze of the mountains in the distance, the green hills that went on forever, the creek with pockets of clay along the banks, the river with the lazy ankle-kissing rapids. I wouldn’t have traded a minute of it. There was never a point where I sat brooding over pictures of cities. I never created a countdown marking the days until I was free to leave and make my home elsewhere. I’m not sure I even knew I was so in love with all that concrete and steel and glass and brick until I found myself in the mist of it.

Shortly after college I moved to the suburbs of Washington, DC. While I learned quickly that my heart was not in the suburbs, I relished my weekend trips into the city. I loved the click of my heels on the Metro platform; the ding signaling the doors closing, the whir of the train as it whizzed through tunnels. The soaring ceilings of the stations and the hop and jolt of tall escalators made me smile in anticipation of the crowded streets above. I took my place among the shoppers and diners and errand runners and I felt energized. Part of something larger than myself; somehow simultaneously anonymous and infinitely connected. New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Fransisco, Denver, Seattle, London, Rome, Glasgow, Dublin; no matter the city the feeling is always the same.

As cities go Richmond isn’t the largest or most bustling. It’s no New York; not even DC. But it is the city in which I have the privilege of walking the concrete sidewalks daily, past brick buildings and steel posts, my reflection bouncing off panes of glass. It is the city that offers up its own unique energy. That both excites and frustrates; which frequently seems to offer all or nothing at all.

Yet as juxtaposed as it can be, there is still the love.

These Vagabond Shoes . . .

As referenced in my previous post, I just spent a long weekend in New York.  I planned the trip as a celebration of my husband’s 40th birthday.  While the trip alone was a great celebration; even better was the fact that three other friends travelled from Richmond, and two additional from New Jersey to celebrate with us!

On Thursday, in addition to using my train time to blog, I also read TrustNeely’s Guide to Brooklyn, since one of the few definite stops on our birthday itinerary was Brooklyn Brewery.  The author’s descriptions and beautiful photography made me instantly even more excited for all the goodness that just a subway ride away from our hotel.  So much so, that after checking in, we headed straight for Chavela’s where the house made tortillas and creamy guacamole were just as good as promised.  From there we headed to the TKTS booth in downtown Brooklyn were there was no line.  For those of you familiar with the Times Square TKTS experience I’ll repeat that:  no line.  That night we watched Jerry Lee Lewis kick piano benches across the stage from our up close and personal half-price seats at Million Dollar Quartet.

Then we returned to our hotel (Ink 48 ) to find a brown paper package, tied up in string (well, orange ribbon) in our room.  Seems that tiny note I made on our reservation was truly heeded, as the next night we returned to a bottle of wine.  This attention to the detail about our birthday celebration was the icing on a cake made of fabulously appointed rooms, impressive city views (see am/pm skylines above), complimentary wine happy hours, and great deals for those willing to book early.  I already sought Kimpton hotels out – but now I may never stay anywhere else.

Friday highlights included danish and turnovers at the Hungarian Pastry Shop in Morningside Heights; followed by a stop for coffee which we sipped while walking the grounds of Columbia University.  Then it was off to the Museum of Art & Design, where there seemed to be fabulous things tucked into every corner (see above: glassware  on a side stairwell and happy foam people lining the wall above the main stairs).  Two of our Richmond friends had arrived in town by happy hour and we met at The Pony Bar, where we scored the kind of real estate at the bar that can only be cornered by those on vacation (or not bound to a 5:oo end of the workday).  We finished the evening at Birreria, where I enjoyed a beer brewed with thyme and this amazing concoction of cheese, grilled mushrooms and brussel sprouts.

Saturday was . . . drumroll please . . . . the BIRTHDAY!  We started off with a hearty breakfast, which we instinctually knew was the right thing to do before embarking on Brooklyn Brewery.  We arrived near 1:00 and by 2:00 the tasting room was packed.  We were now a party of 8 — complete with the New Jersey friends, the Richmond friends, and one Richmonder’s sister, who lives in Brooklyn.  The birthday boy and a few others took a brewery tour, while the rest of us held down the table, which was being eyed longingly by several other large parties.  Post-tour, we headed next door to the thrice  recommended Brooklyn Bowl (the aforementioned Neely, our hotel staff and the Brooklyn sister all endorsed it).  There’s really no way to put the experience into words other than to say – go.  See it for yourself.  And order the fried chicken.

Next up, at the Brooklyn sister’s recommendation, was a nearby restaurant that served fabulous Italian food and then my favorite kind of cozy bar with great music (the kind that only a local can recommend). Between the beer, the excited conversation among friends, and my utter confidence in the recommendations, I somehow failed to adequately take in the name of these two places.   I remember the tang of the tomato sauce, the fact that the pasta seemed perfectly imperfect in the way fresh pasta should.  I remember the dim light in the bar, the chatter, the laughter.  These are the details that my fiction writer’s mind remembers.  I’m pretty sure that means I would make a lousy travel writer.

But it also means that it was a birthday well celebrated!

Train Blogging

So I’m trying my hand at blogging on the go today, from a train headed north to Penn Station. The last time I took the train to New York I was frantically writing a paper on the train so that I could enjoy my long weekend without it hanging over me. How nice to be writing for fun today!

Of all the ways to get places, the train is near the top of my list. I’m not a driver (obviously, since I happily gave up my car). The open road holds no thrill for me. Sure a car trip with the right person can be full of awesome conversation; but I can’t get up and stretch my legs by going for a coffee in the cafe car or prop my laptop/iPad up on the little table and write papers and blogs. Flying has lost all it’s appeal (outside of speed to destination) thanks to the shoes off, toiletries in a baggie strip search that has become security. Not to mention the crowded and oft cancelled flights that seem more the norm than the exception.

But the train has leg room, power outlets, little tray tables and wi-fi. You can play cards in the cafe. Stretch your feet out and sleep. Bring your own food from home (even *gasp* liquids). In theory you could even bring that giant bottle of your favorite shampoo – though those of us who travel regularly have probably long expunged that from our repertoire.

So let’s all raise our tea from the cafe car, or that coffee you brought with you from your local shop, maybe even that cup of homemade soup to travel made pleasant. To feeling less like herded animals. To keeping our shoes on. To the train!