October 21, 2007

Halloweentime Jaunt to the Midwest

Sunrise view from the Hilton

Spent the weekend in Minneapolis - again - this weekend. I actually don't mind it so much. I tell everybody it's a surprisingly cosmopolitan place.

This time I stayed at the Hilton, which was a mistake because it was a prime convention spot crawling with badge-toting midwesterners and gigantic football players (North Dakota State U, to be exact). I was pressed up against the back of the elevator during each trip to and from the 21st floor, praying for oxygen.

The stress of the throngs needed desperately to be relieved, so I ordered an in-room massage from the former LiteSpa (now an Aveda salon called Sanctuary). Spa services outside of a beach cabana or New York City can be a bit dodgy, but this ended up being really good - in fact, I think, better than the massages I get from Deborah at Crunch. This one included a great head/scalp massage, and also uncovered some real pain I'm having...drum roll...behind my knees. In the lymph area. Apparently I'm clogged.

So the massage was a great release in more ways than one, and for the first time in weeks (maybe months), I woke up the next morning and could walk without hobbling. Score!

Besides the access to in-room massages, the one good thing about the hotel was its proximity to a great restaurant called Hell's Kitchen, a new discovery. Aptly named, the wait there is hellish, as is the attitude of the people taking reservations and names for the waitlist. Saturday I tried to go there three times, and finally ordered a ham and pear toasted sandwich to go and ate it on the stairwell in the building. But this morning I planned ahead and didn't have to wait too long to brunch with Sebouh, who shared the delicious sausage bread (made with bison meat!), topped with butter, homemade peanut butter and preserves. It's practically a meal on its own but I managed to make some room for the catfish breakfast special, with poached eggs and a sauce with a real kick to it.

Minneapolis always brings the good food and drink, if you know where to go. (DON'T go to the NewsRoom.) We tried the bar in the new swank Graves 601 hotel, where I had the deliciously unsweet Mojito "8" cocktail and some sweet grilled cheese sandwiches topped with truffle honey. The scene was weirdly New York, and we were surrounded by Emmy winners of the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Television Academy. Bizarre.

Even more bizarre was our trip to the sticks for the Trail of Terror, supposedly the Midwest's best Halloween attraction. It paled in comparison to some of the New York area ones I've visited over the last couple of years, but the haunted house-slash-maze had some neat tricks of its own that kept me on my toes (and grabbing for Vic). They kept it really dark, and with my night vision pretty bad as it is, I was blind the whole time. Then we hit the hallway with the big horn sound and a bright light that bleached our retinas and really blinded us.

I can't say it was worth the long drive, the muddy school bus ride from the parking lot, and the long wait in line, but I was spooked and startled and we laughed a lot. Mission accomplished.

It also gave us the excuse to have dinner at Bennigan's, which we spotted from the highway. We were hungry for fun, and thanks to Vic, now I can say I've tasted the deep fat fried and battered Monte Cristo sandwich with raspberry jam. It's so wrong. And so good.

Thankfully, considering everything I ate while away, I got the chance to swim a little at my hotel. I also spent a fair amount of time on my feet walking back and forth between hotel and Target Center, where I was wrangling some children for the KIDZ BOP WORLD TOUR. Rock!

If I have to go back to Minneapolis again, I hope it's during better weather, so I can visit De Smet, SD and complete my Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway journey.

October 13, 2007

Photo Essay: Great Jack o’ Lantern Blaze

I guess it's a family event, but since I didn't have any kids to bring, I dragged Edith, Eric, Michelle and Joe an hour upstate to Croton-on-Hudson for the annual Great Jack o' Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor (follow the brown signs).

Photo: PSEdie Photo: PSEdie
The manor itself - which you can tour throughout the year during the day - was pretty spooky, with illuminated pumpkins lining its railings and the colored spotlight changing periodically.

Photo: PSEdie

Skeletor made sure we didn't get lost through the winding paths...

Some really elaborate designs...

It takes about an hour to go through the whole thing depending on how stuck you get behind the kids in the "Dead Sea" section, but you can grab a hot cider and a cider doughnut on your way in, and it's a pleasantly spooky way to spend a crisp fall evening.

Through October 31.

October 07, 2007

Photo Essay: Open House NY

This weekend is Open House New York, always a highlight of the year for the last five years. You get to explore places that are normally closed to the public (and sometimes kind of condemned).

Highlights from my weekend:

ferry to Ellis Island, stopping first by Liberty Island

Checking out Ellis Island's restored Ferry Building, where the old ferry "Ellis" sank in the 1960s (and you can still see some of it sticking up through the water surface)

Rubble outside the abandoned psychiatric hospital

broken glass windows in the stabilized walkways between the various sections of the abandoned hospital

hanging light socket in the old staff's quarters

toilet in the old Contagious Diseases Hospital

Washed rind cave in the basement of Murray's Cheese

More moldy cheese in Murray's Cheese cheese cave - stinky but well-worth standing in line for the wait list

There were tons of other things I wanted to do - canoe the Gowanus, explore an MTA Substation - but they were all on Saturday and I couldn't fit everything in. Sunday I decided to go to the mall and do a very different kind of urban exploring (resulting in shoes and lots of Halloween crap from Target).

NPR: Capturing the 'Dark Side' of Ellis Island