I’m not really sure how the planning for this trip got started. One day, I was looking for some fun flights I could redeem miles for, and the next day I was planning a trip around the world.
The problem was: I had a lot of “empty” segments in the middle, where I had to connect two “cool” awards by something that worked. I figured if I was going to go full-on Av-Geeking this trip, I should add in some stuff I would never do otherwise.
No, I didn’t book economy class or something silly like that, but I did book some stuff that I’ve never done before. Lots of stuff I’ve never done before. But, I won’t ruin the surprise now. First, let’s get the trip on the road, and then you can see just how unusual for me some of this stuff was.
They say every great journey begins with a first step. Well, mine began with Metrorail – which wasn’t on fire that day – so I consider that a small victory in the grand scheme of things!
Where was I going? Dulles Airport where I get to experience the “Silver Line Express” bus to get there? National Airport which is actually the easiest of all with just a short change of trains? Nope, somewhere I never go – and hadn’t been in years and years – Union Station! I think it’s been since the construction was going on, and I was impressed how the foyer looked all shiny and bright:
I had asked friends who travel on Amtrak with some frequency, and they told me I had to find the Amtrak Lounge, and find something called a “red cap” who would give me the magic of having the perfect experience.
Found the lounge, and the two older couples checking in in front of me both asked if they needed a “red cap” to take them and their mounds of luggage to their train, but I wasn’t asked. Perhaps it was because I was 20+ years younger than everyone else in the senior citizens’ home…I mean lounge….but I did ask for one, and was told he would come to pick me up.
Meanwhile, I enjoyed the finest snax Amtrak had to offer:
“My” red coat came to get me and one of the couples about 15 minutes before the train, and past everyone else who was waiting so we could board before all the other first class passengers. A small tip was a small price to pay, and if I could get escorted from airline lounge to boarding the same way I would pay it every time. Are you listening airlines???
Not as sexy as a lot of trains, but our Acela was still….interesting?
Once we had boarded, and the car was filling up nicely, I took a gander out the window at the next platform and saw this. Who says America’s infrastructure is crumbling? Ugh…it’s quite shameful for the self-proclaimed “capital of the free world”:
Whoah, a menu for a short train ride?!
The attendant (can’t really call them flight attendants, right?) came around offering pre-departure beverages, and for some reason I decided to forego by usual beer or wine, and asked for a Woodford with a “little” ice. Well, I got more than a little ice, and I got more than a little Woodford too: a full glass plus two mini bottles!
During boarding, an elderly couple I would put in their 80s were very, very unhappy with their seats. They had been assigned two seats side by side, and kept kvetching at the attendant that they could not sit there because “we don’t like people looking at us!” The attendant tried to explain that every other seat was taken, and next time they should tell their travel agent (apparently those are still a thing?) to book the type of seat they like the next time. They made such a scene that the police had to be called….
Eventually some folks gave up their preferred seats just to shut the complaining old couple up, and with that sorted, we were on our way. Lunch came soon after, and I went with the cheese plate…which was…adequate. The cookie, however, was delicious!
Choo Choo….off we go up the Northeast Corridor!
Some tv, looking out the window, and it was time for a beer as we kept chugging along. I had to admit, this was a perfectly civilized way to travel, and I was definitely enjoying it much more than flying with Ubers on each end! Plus…savory snack mix!
Picked my hotel in NYC because it was (a) walkable from Penn Station (b) a Marriott Bonvoy property and (c) because I was told I’m the “target demographic” for this brand. I guess it’s true, because every time I’ve stayed at an AC hotel I’ve rather enjoyed it. That same IKEA practicality combined with European design…sign me up. Plus, the AC was ice cold, so for Manhattan it was a great hotel!
Off to spend the afternoon with fellow country-collecting friend, and managed to drag her to Tipsy Scoop near her office, which several friends recommended I try. I give rave reviews to the dark chocolate salted caramel whiskey flavor. Yum! The spiked mint chocolate chip was also delicious.
It was a rare gorgeous summer day in New York, so we basically just sat around Madison Square Park and did what country collecting geeks do: chat about the best things to do in Angola, the quirks of the Cameroonian visa, and how to “sneak” into places like Yemen and Syria without getting yourself in trouble. You know, every day conversations….
Empire State Building…because it was close and I had to do at least one touristy thing with my night in New York City!
Off to Hell’s Kitty next to meet some friends for dinner, which was absolutely delicious and it was great to catch up. Considering I got into New York mid-afternoon it was great to get to see multiple friends, a little bit of the city, and get the trip off to a really unusual (for me) start. Yes, I know I live less than 200 miles from New York, and maybe that’s why I don’t make more of an effort, but it was really cool nonetheless.
Off to bed at a quasi-reasonable hour – I had to be up early to head out to JFK to catch my flight onwards to London, and I decided I would be brave and try public transit!
By pure co-incidence I also (today!) had a chat about the best things to do in Angola with a travel friend who already was there. See, I’m going to Angola in November 😉