Post-vacation Blues

Stonehenge.

Stonehenge.

It’s always rough to come back from vacation and get started back into the workaday routine. I missed my pets and the comfort of being surrounded by my own stuff, but that’s about it. I sure didn’t miss my neighborhood with its ridiculous amounts of loud noise or the horrendous humidity of the Washington, D.C., area. Yes, I know other places are worse, but that’s not particularly reassuring. I had adjusted to lower temperatures and humidity and the night we arrived home it was nearly 77 degrees at Dulles airport and according to one weather app it was nearly 100 percent humidity.

I spent the last two weeks touring London, Bath, Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands with a peek at Loch Ness (sans monster), Great Yarmouth, and Paris, collecting refrigerator magnets and the occasional posh souvenir. The weather was generally nice, although it did rain a couple of days, prompting me to purchase a souvenir Cutty Sark umbrella from Greenwich. I took a raincoat but it never quite made it out of the luggage and it hogged way too much space in the suitcase. I could have bought more souvenirs…

Now that vacation is over I plan to make a packing list for my next trip based on the things I took and the things I never used. I used a gym bag for my carry-on luggage, but next trip it’s definitely going to be a real piece of luggage with wheels. Even at fourteen pounds, the bag seemed much heavier and the nylon strap dug into my neck.

Well, it’s time to settle back into my writing routine. I’ll be posting some photos from the trip along with new posts. Look for the next installment of the Thursday Writing Prompt later this week.

When It Rains…

A rainy day photo of the Queensboro Bridge, as seen from the pedestrian bridge at Queensboro Plaza north.

Friday, September 28. Today’s weather report called for a chance of showers, as I recall. Of course, we left all the umbrellas at home, and I took only a windbreaker. Well, it not only rained, it poured. The water droplets hit so hard they kind of hurt. My windbreaker was useless at keeping my legs dry and the hood also kept blowing off my head, so my hair was soon in my eyes. I’d lent my husband my Maker Faire baseball cap, but he wasn’t faring any better than I was at staying dry. And the water was cold, too.

We had little choice: walk (run!) back to the hotel or press on to the subway station. We were more than halfway to the train, so we ducked under an awning and waited a couple of minutes until the rain lessened. Then we scurried the remaining two blocks to the train station. My shoes were squishing horribly. We got on the subway and transferred trains without incident (but with some map-checking!) and as we rode into Manhattan the rain faded.

Unfortunately, by the time we reached the 86th Street station it was raining again. No one wanted to go out in it, and the subway entrance was jammed with reluctant pedestrians. We squeezed out the door and ran up two or three shops to one with an awning, then repeated that a couple of times. I finally spotted a pharmacy and left Ben under an awning while I crossed the street into the store and bought two umbrellas. Our first souvenirs!

The walk from the station to the Metropolitan Museum of Art was much better after we had umbrellas, since their mighty weather-controlling ability warded off the rain so much we were able to put them away after a few minutes. Definitely a good purchase! We arrived at the museum shortly after it opened, so the line for tickets was quite short. We stowed our wet gear at the coat check, got our tickets, and wandered into the exhibit area. I’ll be posting about what we saw at the museum later, but in a word: Wow.

Maker Faire New York

The New York Maker Faire was held on September 17 and 18, 2011. The site was the grounds and buildings of the New York Hall of Science, which is situated on the where the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs were held. Both of us had wanted to get over to see the Unisphere, which is still there, along with some other structures. But we were kept busy enough at the Faire that we simply ran out of time for any other sightseeing. We attended the Maker Faire for both days and still didn’t see everything that was there.

The Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV) proves that it's childproof as well as tornado-proof.

A life-sized Mouse Trap game.

This fish bicycle was seen circling the grounds during the show.

Now, where did I put the marshmallows?

In addition to presentations, there was enough entertainment to keep everyone occupied. A life-sized Mouse Trap game re-created the children’s game, a Rube Goldsbergesque device that sent a ball through a series of curving slides and other fantastic gizmos to finally drop a trap over the top of an over-sized mouse. Talk about overkill!

Most of the Faire was set up on asphalt, and there were a lot of people on bicycles of various designs riding about the parking lot. One bicycle was covered with pink fabric and made to look like a fish; another one looked like a shaggy dog. I saw plenty of skateboards and over transportation things that had been modified. But the most interesting transportation device had to be the Tornado Intercept Vehicle, or TIV, built by filmmaker Sean Casey. There was supposed to be a presentation, but we got mixed up with the scheduling or else it was cancelled. The TIV was parked behind the science museum and on full display. Its doors were open, and swarms of kids were climbing in an out of it. There were “do not touch the controls” signs on the dashboard, but it’s doubtful if any of the kids could read the signs. We managed to get a couple of photos of each of us in front of the TIV before the next swarm engulfed it in writhing arms and legs. Okay, that sounds gross, but it was actually kind of funny. There was a drop-down door panel on the left side of the vehicle with a handle. I lifted it to see how much it weighed and found that it was pretty heavy.  It’s one thing to see something like this on television, but up close it’s pretty impressive because you start to realize just how much work and innovation went into building it.

There were sculptures and interactive art thingies, too. The coolest (and hottest) had to be this dragon, which spit out a steady stream of propane-powered fire. Every once in awhile the guy managing it would crank up the flow and a huge gust of flame would shoot out over people’s heads. Saturday it got pretty chilly, and the heat from that flame was nice!

New York City

Paramount Building in New York City

The Paramount Building. I converted this image to grayscale using the Topaz B&W filter plug-in for Photoshop.

On Friday the 16th, we went up to New York City to attend Maker Faire (more on that to come). Neither Ben nor me has ever been to New York City. Frankly, we’re not really urbanites and tend to avoid really crowded areas, so cities don’t tend to be in the top slot on our vacation lists. We decided to suck it up and deal with the crowds so we could go to the Faire without having to drive. I wasn’t worried about driving to New York City, I didn’t want to have to deal with finding parking when we got there. I received some excellent advice from New Yorkers I know online: don’t drive. Use the subway.

We took the Amtrak train out of Union Station in Washington D.C. and arrived in New York City’s Penn Station before lunch. We ate Nathan’s hotdogs at the train station, then braved our way out into the city. It wasn’t as scary as the tourist information makes you believe. For one thing, I work in downtown Washington so I’m used to crossing streets and avoiding cabs and trucks that are trying to beat red lights. It was pretty much the same situation, so it wasn’t that stressful. We had to walk several blocks north to catch the subway train we needed to get to our hotel out in Queens.

The subway was impressive, and you could actually understand the train operator over the speaker system (as well as the person speaking on the intercom in Penn Station). On the Washington Metro you hear something like “Grnn mmm mnn Fort Totten mmph.” Maybe they need elocution lessons, but I’m afraid that would require yet another fare increase. And that’s another big difference — it cost us $2.25 per trip on the New York subway no matter where we got on or off, compared to Metro, which costs more than $4. We got out to Queens without any problems and had a three-block walk to our hotel. The room wasn’t ready, so we checked our bags, sat and rested for a few minutes, and then headed back to Manhattan for lunch and some sightseeing.

The restaurant we went to had a second-story patio, so we sat out in the sunshine and ate our lunch. I took a few pictures of the Empire State Building from the restaurant. There was one building next to the restaurant that was very tall. I found that I could not look up at it without getting vertigo. That is definitely something different for me — buildings in Washington top out at about 11 stories and the sidewalks are wider, so the city seems much more open. I tried to ignore the building and told myself to think of it as a huge tree.

After lunch we did some walking and wandered into Macy’s. There are escalators in the store that have wooden paneling, and I even rode one that had wooden treads. I wonder how old they are? It was really interesting to see the historic architecture, both inside and out. We had some coffee, but by late afternoon we were tiring. We’d been up since 4:00 a.m. and it was catching up to us. We walked up to Times Square and spent about half an hour wandering around before we decided to head back to the hotel. We just couldn’t muster any more energy for sightseeing. Maybe next trip.

Empire State Building

The Empire State Building as seen from a second-story restaurant patio. The building on the right is Madison Square Garden. This photo was taken with a Nikon Coolpix S210.

Times Square and taxi

Times Square, facing north, about seven o'clock in the evening. What would New York be without a yellow taxi?