The rain has started in the city

I’ve been back from Italy for ten days – just about how long I was gone – and fall has officially, well, fallen. In Rome, it got to be 90 degrees. Even in Venice I was fine at night with a sweater. But in the last two days in New York, as rain has poured from the sky and into my leaky boots, I’ve started layering under my rain jacket and wondering when I should pull out my woolen winter coat. I still need to get my AC out of the window so the draft (and noise) stops seeping into my apartment.

Right now I’m sitting on the couch writing this wrapped in a blanket. My heat is on, but it’s still chilly.

Fall 2013, Prospect Park

Fall 2013, Prospect Park

I’ve said it on this blog before and I’ll say it again: Fall is my favorite season. I love the crisp air and the smell of the leaves, apple cider and pumpkins, Halloween, everything. But October is already almost over, winter is peeking over its shoulder, and I’m just not ready. I need to spray my new boots so I can wear them in the rain! I probably need a better fall jacket, and I definitely need some new sweaters. I should figure out a humidifier situation because the heat has only been on for a few days and already I’m drying out. I’d probably be handling this all a little better if I weren’t still recovering from vacation, and if the rainy weather hadn’t brought on some allergies.

It’s hard to stay active in the fall and winter. It’s getting darker earlier – Daylights Saving Time ends next weekend – and between that and the weather I’m going to have some trouble convincing myself to get out and do things in the months to come. So if you have suggestions, send them my way! I need all the encouragement I can get.

But the rain is stopping, the temperature is going up tomorrow, and there’s still so much autumn loveliness to look forward to! Halloween is next weekend, as is the marathon, and the leaves are just starting to change color. I can’t wait to see what Prospect Park looks like this fall – it was spectacular last year.

If you, like me, are already feeling the urge to hibernate, you might like this song by The Doubleclicks that describes exactly the situation I find myself in. Except minus the cats.

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On the train home

First posted on October 15, 2013.

It’s not quite 8 A.M. on a Saturday and I’m on a train headed north along the Hudson River. I’m on the wrong side of the train for the best view, but I can look out the window between the spaciously-set seats.

The trees have just barely begun to turn; scattered among the green are tiny shocks of red or dusty yellow. But mostly the leaves are green, enough that if I weren’t looking for fall foliage I might not notice the hints of color. They’re most noticeable where the sunlight hits. The sky is turning bright blue behind white cotton wisps of clouds in the east, but in the west over the river it’s a muted blue against gray clouds that stretch along the horizon.

It’s a long train ride home to visit my family in Western New York, but a beautiful one. I usually fall asleep as we pass through the Catskills but today I’m determined to stay awake. I hope as we progress west that I’ll get to watch the leaves change, and that when I arrive home it will be fall, which it isn’t quite yet in NYC this weekend. Sometimes in the morning or late evening the air smells, just a little bit, like the crispness of Halloween from my childhood, when we’d wear layers under and over our costumes because sometimes it was cold enough for snow. But mostly even on cool nights the air still smells like late summer, or trash, or nothing at all.

I like traveling by train better than any other form of travel. Cars and buses give me motion sickness most of the time, so I spend those trips sleeping. Planes are fine, once I’m on them, but getting to and from the airports in NYC is painful. On the train, I can read, write, or just look out the window, and get up whenever I want. Sometimes I even get a seat to myself. Train stations are easy to get to and navigate. Amtrak tickets are fully refundable if you have to cancel at the last minute, and pretty cheap if you buy in advance. The ride is long, but I tell myself to consider it part of the vacation, the time I have to myself to relax, and it’s usually lovely.

We’re pulling into Croton-Harmon station and my eyelids are drooping (a 5 A.M. alarm will do that) but for a moment there was water on both sides of the train. Half an hour in there’s a little more yellow and orange along the river, and the western sky is brighter blue. There’s a pond-like body of water alongside the tracks—or does it become a marsh when it’s full of cattail reeds? I can’t remember when I last picked a cattail, and these don’t have the heavy brown heads so maybe they’re something else entirely.

The sun is now high enough (and out from behind clouds) to get in my eyes as I look out the window. It lights the river and the hills, and the houses overlooking the river seem like toys from here. One is big, red and boxy with white trim and a white porch. We pass through a town and the river disappears for a few moments behind a high sheet of rock. When it emerges again there’s a pond again beside me, open and shimmering in the sunlight that floods the train.

We pass a subdivision, all the houses a uniform beige in the sunlight as we chug by, and while I think it’d be lovely to live out here, I don’t think I could do it like that, even if it meant being less isolated. It’d feel like cheating, to live near the river and not in one of the houses perched on a hill, looking like a good push could tip it off into the water.

We’re meant to get to Albany-Rensselear station soon, where the train usually sits for twenty minutes. They say you can get off for a break then, but in the seven years I’ve ridden on this route I think I’ve gotten out once. The idea of being left behind while my stuff goes on without me isn’t appealing, somehow.

Before Albany the ride gets shaky, making walking to the bathroom more difficult and rattling the tray tables. It’s unusual, but I also don’t usually end up on this kind of train, with its extra leg room, foot rests, and oversized tray tables. I think it’s because this train goes all the way to Toronto, whereas the one I usually take stops at Niagara Falls.

On my trip to the bathroom I notice a guy in the row behind mine who looks like someone I met a few times in college. During the longer-than-usual stop in Albany I catch his attention, confirm that it’s him, and say hello. We’re from the same city, something I remember discussing once in college. The world is pretty small. Oddly I’ve yet to run into someone from high school on the train, though I think there aren’t that many of us in the city.

When the train turns west I stop paying such close attention to the scenery and alternate between chatting with my college acquaintance and chatting with my seatmate. I’ve always been good at making friends on trains and talking does make the time pass more quickly.

When we get to the last hour of the ride, I turn back to writing. The trees are more colorful here, but they’re not bright yet, just golden greens. Maybe Thanksgiving will be a better time for leaves, if we don’t have too many storms, but they may all drop by then.

I started rereading one of my favorite books this week—Tam Lin by Pamela Dean—and today I realized that subconsciously I was probably drawn to how much fall and Halloween play a part in the novel. It starts in September and covers three years, ending with a climax on Halloween, and the first fall lasts over 200 pages out of a total of about 450. I’m traveling upstate to experience fall as it should be experienced, with apple picking and cider and pumpkins, so it’s no wonder I felt like reading a book set so firmly in the season.

It’s afternoon now, and I’m almost home. But with a little ways to go, it’s time to read more, and to look out the window at a New York that’s not NYC.

NYC Day Trips: New Haven, CT and Yale University

Okay, this is, I admit, a lazy post. I haven’t had a ton of time to explore in the last few weeks (though I have a fun, full weekend ahead that should merit a couple of posts!) and so this topic comes to you courtesy of “photos I’ve taken in the last year and not already used for a post”. These were taken in November 2013.

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Well, this one wasn’t taken in November 2013. I didn’t have any good Old Campus pictures from then, so here’s one from 2008. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

My illustrious alma mater, located in New Haven, Connecticut, is gorgeous, especially in the fall. There are a lot of good reasons to go to Yale, but its loveliness definitely doesn’t hurt. When I was applying for college I was at first attracted to enclosed campuses where there weren’t a lot of cars (and took one look at NYU and said, “Nope.”), but after a second visit to Yale I really fell in love with its mixture of serene courtyards and somewhat busy streets. It was a taste of city living but in a very structured environment.

The walkway between Jonathan Edwards and Branford colleges

The walkway between Jonathan Edwards and Branford colleges

If you’re looking for a nice fall day trip from NYC, New Haven is a great option! A Metro North round-trip off peak ticket is about  $32 and the ride is around two hours long. If you’re ambitious, rent a car and drive up so you can take advantage of nearby farm markets like Bishop’s Orchards and go apple picking. There’s also an Ikea, but we’ve got one in Brooklyn, too, so maybe not critical.

Outside Branford college

Outside Branford college

When you get to New Haven, take a bus or taxi or use your feet and head toward the New Haven Green, right next to Yale’s Old Campus. The Green is a park and former burial ground, and Old Campus is a beautiful green space enclosed by freshman dorms. During the day, the gates to Old Campus are open and visitors can wander across it, enjoying the architecture and trees and a nice view of Harkness Tower.

Harkness Tower

Harkness Tower

Make sure to check out Sterling Memorial Library. On campus tours, the guides always mention that the architect had always wanted to build a cathedral and decided to do it with Sterling. It does resemble an altar to knowledge, and I believe some renovations were recently completed, so it’s definitely worth a visit. Make sure to also visit the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which always has interesting displays and where you can take a look at a Gutenberg Bible.

Branford College courtyard

Branford College courtyard

Take a walk down Chapel Street and check out some great shops. Book Trader Café, with its used books and lovely light-filled dining space, is a nice stop for a snack break. The two fantastic Yale art galleries, the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art, are both on Chapel Street and are both free admission. The YUAG was just remodeled and is stunning. I was lucky enough to see “Starry Night” there when it was touring a few years back and got to see it up close, without the crowds you see at MoMA. Seriously, make sure you stop in to these museums – they would be worth the visit to New Haven, even if the rest of campus wasn’t. Which it is.

Branford College courtyard

Branford College courtyard

There are about a million pizza places, including the renowned Sally’s and Pepe’s, over in Wooster Square, supposed to be some of the oldest pizza places in the country. Closer to the rest of campus are the popular Bar (famous for its mashed potato pizza), the after-rehearsal spot, Yorkside, and my often overlooked no frills favorite, Wall Street, formerly Naples.

I’m leaving out a ton of wonderful things about New Haven, but this is enough to get you started if you have a day to visit! Yale friends, anything to add? Other friends, what are your favorite day trips from NYC?

PS Next time I’m in New Haven with some time to take photos, I’ll get some pictures of things that are not near or in Branford College. I promise the rest of the campus is also this pretty!

Amtrak and the dubious nature of travel karma

My love affair with Amtrak may be over. After telling everyone I know how much I love train travel and having mostly painless trips myself (while friends and family have had delays, including one due to “an armed robbery ahead on the track” – not exactly a confidence booster), the travel karma gods have finally caught up with me. I made a quick visit home for Memorial Day weekend and my return train trip was delayed by nearly four hours.

Delayed four hours, mind you, before we even got on the train. It’s Monday evening, I’m on the train, and I have no idea what the final hour count will be. More than four hours, that’s for sure, because we’ve been stopped on and off for the three and a half hours I’ve been on the train, and I’m not entirely sure we’ve hit the station we were meant to at the hour and a half mark.
It’s been a pleasant ride otherwise – lots of leg room on this train, they came around with snacks and water, the sun is shining, I have plenty of reading material (if no internet connection) – but I’m not too thrilled about the fact that it may be 10 or 11 p.m. by the time I make it to my apartment. I’m not letting myself consider that it could be later than that – I’ve got a long ride ahead of me and I need to enjoy at least some of it.
I got to spend a little extra time with my parents this morning – we took a ride and went to a park, walked around, got some Vitamin D – but if we’d known my train would board at 1:45 instead of 10 a.m., we might have gone out for a full breakfast instead of making a quick stop for bagels. My dad would’ve finished his coffee, I would’ve finished my orange juice. Hell, I might’ve slept in a little, called a friend I hadn’t managed to see, hung out at home with the puppy a bit longer.
But here’s the thing. The travel karma gods have caught up with me before. A few years ago, within a six-month period I had one Friday night flight canceled (on my birthday weekend, no less) and two others hideously delayed. I swore never to fly on a Friday night again (a promise I may have kept, I can’t remember), and since then have had mostly good travels, with only minor delays. So I was due for another round, and considering I have a vacation on the horizon with (count them) sevenflights in a ten day period, I’m really hoping this insanely delayed Amtrak train will pay my debt this time around.
If it does, Amtrak, you’ll be back in my good books. And let’s be honest – I’d rather spend a delay hanging out with my parents, or even on a train, than stuck in an airport any day. This seat is pretty darn comfortable and the trees outside my window are a beautiful green.
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From my couch, the next day, I regret to say that the final delay was five and half hours. I got to Penn Station at midnight and hopped in a cab. Yesterday was a long day, today was a long day, but I have one nice thing to say for Amtrak: they fed us some stew at dinnertime. Considering I’d pretty much only eaten bagels, an apple, and brownies up until that point, that earned them a few points.
But I’m back now, after a really nice weekend. And while I was home I got to hang out with this adorable dog, so it’s still a win.

On the train home

It’s not quite 8 A.M. on a Saturday and I’m on a train headed north along the Hudson River. I’m on the wrong side of the train for the best view, but I can look out the window between the spaciously-set seats.

The trees have just barely begun to turn; scattered among the green are tiny shocks of red or dusty yellow. But mostly the leaves are green, enough that if I weren’t looking for fall foliage I might not notice the hints of color. They’re most noticeable where the sunlight hits. The sky is turning bright blue behind white cotton wisps of clouds in the east, but in the west over the river it’s a muted blue against gray clouds that stretch along the horizon.

It’s a long train ride home to visit my family in Western New York, but a beautiful one. I usually fall asleep as we pass through the Catskills but today I’m determined to stay awake. I hope as we progress west that I’ll get to watch the leaves change, and that when I arrive home it will be fall, which it isn’t quite yet in NYC this weekend. Sometimes in the morning or late evening the air smells, just a little bit, like the crispness of Halloween from my childhood, when we’d wear layers under and over our costumes because sometimes it was cold enough for snow. But mostly even on cool nights the air still smells like late summer, or trash, or nothing at all.

I like traveling by train better than any other form of travel. Cars and buses give me motion sickness most of the time, so I spend those trips sleeping. Planes are fine, once I’m on them, but getting to and from the airports in NYC is painful. On the train, I can read, write, or just look out the window, and get up whenever I want. Sometimes I even get a seat to myself. Train stations are easy to get to and navigate. Amtrak tickets are fully refundable if you have to cancel at the last minute, and pretty cheap if you buy in advance. The ride is long, but I tell myself to consider it part of the vacation, the time I have to myself to relax, and it’s usually lovely.

We’re pulling into Croton-Harmon station and my eyelids are drooping (a 5 A.M. alarm will do that) but for a moment there was water on both sides of the train. Half an hour in there’s a little more yellow and orange along the river, and the western sky is brighter blue. There’s a pond-like body of water alongside the tracks—or does it become a marsh when it’s full of cattail reeds? I can’t remember when I last picked a cattail, and these don’t have the heavy brown heads so maybe they’re something else entirely.

The sun is now high enough (and out from behind clouds) to get in my eyes as I look out the window. It lights the river and the hills, and the houses overlooking the river seem like toys from here. One is big, red and boxy with white trim and a white porch. We pass through a town and the river disappears for a few moments behind a high sheet of rock. When it emerges again there’s a pond again beside me, open and shimmering in the sunlight that floods the train.

We pass a subdivision, all the houses a uniform beige in the sunlight as we chug by, and while I think it’d be lovely to live out here, I don’t think I could do it like that, even if it meant being less isolated. It’d feel like cheating, to live near the river and not in one of the houses perched on a hill, looking like a good push could tip it off into the water.

We’re meant to get to Albany-Rensselear station soon, where the train usually sits for twenty minutes. They say you can get off for a break then, but in the seven years I’ve ridden on this route I think I’ve gotten out once. The idea of being left behind while my stuff goes on without me isn’t appealing, somehow.

Before Albany the ride gets shaky, making walking to the bathroom more difficult and rattling the tray tables. It’s unusual, but I also don’t usually end up on this kind of train, with its extra leg room, foot rests, and oversized tray tables. I think it’s because this train goes all the way to Toronto, whereas the one I usually take stops at Niagara Falls.

On my trip to the bathroom I notice a guy in the row behind mine who looks like someone I met a few times in college. During the longer-than-usual stop in Albany I catch his attention, confirm that it’s him, and say hello. We’re from the same city, something I remember discussing once in college. The world is pretty small. Oddly I’ve yet to run into someone from high school on the train, though I think there aren’t that many of us in the city.

When the train turns west I stop paying such close attention to the scenery and alternate between chatting with my college acquaintance and chatting with my seatmate. I’ve always been good at making friends on trains and talking does make the time pass more quickly.

When we get to the last hour of the ride, I turn back to writing. The trees are more colorful here, but they’re not bright yet, just golden greens. Maybe Thanksgiving will be a better time for leaves, if we don’t have too many storms, but they may all drop by then.

I started rereading one of my favorite books this week—Tam Lin by Pamela Dean—and today I realized that subconsciously I was probably drawn to how much fall and Halloween play a part in the novel. It starts in September and covers three years, ending with a climax on Halloween, and the first fall lasts over 200 pages out of a total of about 450. I’m traveling upstate to experience fall as it should be experienced, with apple picking and cider and pumpkins, so it’s no wonder I felt like reading a book set so firmly in the season.

It’s afternoon now, and I’m almost home. But with a little ways to go, it’s time to read more, and to look out the window at a New York that’s not NYC.