A Very Musical Weekend in NYC

Every time I travel to Europe I feel a little pang of jealousy over how easy it is for Europeans to cross over into a new country with simply a short flight, train ride, or even an easy road trip. But then I remember we have a similar ability here in the U.S. with traveling to different states and we really don’t take advantage of it enough! So when I was fiiiiiinally able to get tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway, Chris and I decided we would make a New York City weekend of it. We took the train up on Saturday of Columbus Day weekend and stayed until Monday afternoon. Here’s what we did with our 48 hours in the Big Apple.

The Hotel

Because we were only planning to stay for two days/nights and planned to see two shows, we wanted to consolidate our time as much as possible and stay in midtown near the theatres. We found that citizenM, a quirky and stylish boutique hotel right in the middle of the Theatre District, fit the bill perfectly. I highly recommend it as the perfect place to stay for a theatre weekend, with a caveat…

…the rooms are some of the smallest you’ll ever stay in! We knew this going in though, and we didn’t plan on spending much time in the room anyway, so we liked the value of citizenM for the location. The smart design made the room feel bigger than we expected, and we had exactly enough space. I recommend the hotel for either solo travelers or for staying with someone you don’t mind sharing close quarters with and if you’re both okay having a little less privacy than usual. For example, this hotel room wouldn’t work for those couples on House Hunters who vehemently require double sinks.

A king-size bed touches wall-to-wall-to-wall and takes up about half of the square footage. Thankfully it’s a great quality bed and quite comfy. We liked the cozy feeling of the bed nook with a flat-screen TV on the wall. I was also super impressed with the maximized storage capabilities in such a compact space. We each had a small closet for our clothes, plus a giant drawer under the bed. The vanity had lots of shelves for toiletries and such.

The bathroom is comprised of a pod with a shower that somehow felt way more spacious than some tub showers (you know the one with the annoying curtain that always sticks to you?) plus a toilet, and then the sink is on a slim vanity outside of the pod.

An iPad controls everything in the room including the TV, the thermostat, and the lights, with options for mood lighting. The room was really clean and surprisingly quiet considering our location. We had everything we needed, and as a bonus we got a good chuckle out of reading all the funny sayings on the various signs and amenities throughout the hotel. These pillows and this hairdryer, for example:

Most importantly, the hotel was situated steps from all of the theatres, some great restaurants, and the 50th Street subway station for easy access to other neighborhoods. We loved it, and we’ll definitely stay there again!

The Shows

Chris and I might be the only people who had never listened to the Hamilton soundtrack before this past weekend. I specifically held off because I wanted to be completely surprised at the show. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m obsessed and I haven’t stopped listening to the soundtrack! I’m even listening to it right now as I’m writing this post. I’m in awe of Alexander Hamilton’s story, but also of the creator’s story. Lin-Manuel Miranda was inspired by reading a biography of the founding father while on vacation, and turned that inspiration into an award-winning Broadway musical phenomenon. I need to start bringing more substantial books with me on travel.

We saw Hamilton on Saturday night, and we originally planned to spend most of Sunday exploring some of Manhattan including Central Park, but the weather had other plans. Waking up to a soggy forecast that day prompted us to figure out indoor plans, and I presented my case to Chris in favor of seeing another another show. He agreed to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with me, based on one of my all-time favorite children’s books.

We were treated to seeing the original Broadway cast, and while I’ve read some fairly critical reviews of this production, I have a biased soft-spot for the beloved story from my childhood and it was all good fun for me. Plus I was happy to be out of the rain.

Also from the change-of-plans files, we had originally purchased tickets for the new Groundhog Day musical, but we were notified in August that the show was cancelled. I already had my heart on seeing two shows (before I knew we’d end up seeing three), so we decided to see School of Rock instead and I’m so glad we did. I was blown away! The cast includes a dozen or so kids who actually play instruments live on stage. The show is incredibly fun with a brilliant score and we thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’re a fan of the movie, definitely don’t miss the musical.

The Food

Before leaving for New York I found this article with a recommendation for Danji in Hell’s Kitchen, which happened to be only a few minutes’ walk from the citizenM. We made reservations here for our Hamilton evening and took dish recommendations straight from the article along with our own selections from the cocktail menu, and we loved every single bite (understatement). Bulgogi beef sliders, Korean fried chicken wings, and the bacon wet fried rice – I swooned over all three dishes. I desperately wish this restaurant would open a D.C. location.

We had a seat in the back away from good window lighting and I was way too excited about eating to take my time at all with composition, so I hope you’ll pardon my lazy food photography.

As for sweets, we decided to try Schmackery’s (also in Hell’s Kitchen) and once I saw the line out the door I knew we were in for something good. We went with a Halloween candy-covered cookie as well as a Funfetti one. We inhaled one of the giant soft and gooey cookies before the show and saved the second for a delicious intermission snack during Hamilton. This is another New York gem that I’d like to transplant to D.C., please.

On our second night we simply walked out of our hotel and crossed the street to Toloache. This spot satisfied our Mexican food craving before we saw School of Rock, which was also just one block away. You really can’t beat the proximity factor, and we especially loved having plenty of time to indulge in several courses and multiple pre-show margaritas.

Speaking of multiple margaritas, I completely forgot to take a photo of our enchiladas main dish, owing to that buzzed factor that makes you devour whatever is put in front of you…you know the feeling, right? We dug into the dish before I remembered to document it. But I did manage to grab my iPhone for snaps of our queso fundido con chorizo (oh gosh, I could just cry thinking about how good that was and that I might not get to eat it again for a long while), carne asada tacos, and churros for dessert.

And I don’t know if it’s a cliché or a New York must-do, but Chris and I figured either way we probably needed to eat bagels and pizza while we were in the city. Bring on any excuse/reason to eat bread and cheese, please. I had a few options picked out depending on our schedule, but the dreary rainy weather and lack of rain jackets or umbrellas prompted us to stumble out onto 50th Street and go with whatever was closest. We ate breakfast at Pick-a-Bagel on 8th, and for lunch we grabbed a slice at Gotham Pizza. New York City classics…check and check!

Last but not at all least, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring home some cupcakes home from Magnolia Bakery. The first time we tried the famous baked treats was actually in Dubai earlier this year, but I figured we should go back to the original location for the sake of research. Conclusion: yum overseas, yum stateside. (Although…I have to admit, I loved Miss Cupcakes in Lima, Peru more.)

The Sights

The rain only seemed to happen during the daytime, so we were able to explore a bit at night after the shows. On our first night we popped over to Times Square along with a few thousand other night owls, and I got to see the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child billboards.

And then on Sunday we wandered around Radio City Music Hall and went up to the Top of the Rock for a view of the city twinkling in the night sky.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I got a little cranky on the Observation Deck. We had to wait in line for quite a while and it was more crowded at the top and waaay hotter outside than I expected it to be at 11pm in October. Hot + tired and in crowded places isn’t a great combination for me. Luckily I wasn’t also hungry – that’s my trifecta of crankiness.

So I’ll recommend to you, dear readers, that you purchase your Top of the Rock tickets online in advance if possible (we just weren’t sure when we’d go) so you can at least avoid the annoyance of standing in a long line, which is apparently long even fairly late in the evening. I’m happy we went though – I love nighttime photography.

Monday morning we slept in (another rainy day didn’t inspire us to hustle much), packed our things, and returned to Penn Station for an afternoon train ride back home. I probably don’t need to point out that we only scratched the very surface of the City That Never Sleeps. There are countless iconic landmarks to see so I’m not even sure how many days it would take to feel like we thoroughly experienced New York, but I suppose that’s the case with most places.

I loved our weekend of musicals and good eats though, and I’m looking forward to the next time we take advantage of our proximity to one of the greatest cities in the world!

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Moving Pictures: Peru

If a picture is worth a thousand words a video must be worth millions, so here is a three-and-a-half minute collection of clips I shot of our time in the Sacred Valley of Peru!

I had fun trying out a new handheld gimbal for my GoPro. It was fairly easy to get the hang of it and the gimbal helped me keep my footage steady and way smoother than without it, especially while walking. It even did a great job of steadying the footage while on a very bumpy bus ride up to Machu Picchu. I’m still learning some of the features, and if you make it to the end of the video you’ll see what I mean. 😉 In all fairness, I only skimmed the user manual shortly before our trip and I should know better!

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Lares Adventure – Day 7: Machu Picchu!

Like many travelers who make plans for Peru, my ultimate goal was to see the magnificence of Machu Picchu, and our trip would not have felt complete without a visit to the ancient citadel. And for most of the morning and afternoon on Day Six, we thought we would miss out on seeing it. But late that day, we made it to Aguas Calientes, and on Day Seven of our Lares Adventure we did see Machu Picchu! And it was indeed magnificent.

But let me go back to the start of our time in Aguas Calientes. We arrived by train around 7pm and walked from the station to our lodging for the night, the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Hotel. The hotel grounds are breathtaking, but after having sort of a stressful day I just didn’t have it in me to take many photos. Plus by the time we ate dinner and arrived to our rooms, it was dark. And we left first thing the next morning to try to beat the crowds to Machu Picchu. All of this is to say I did not end up taking photos of the beautiful hotel.

But we did have some time after our tour of Machu Picchu to do a little bird watching – the Inkaterra is home to dozens of hummingbirds!

Despite getting to the line for the bus by 8:15am, there was quite a queue already formed. But the line moved fast, and I think we only waited for maybe twenty minutes. And I was too excited to care! We were going to see Machu Picchu!

Our bus ride up the long and winding Hiram Bingham Highway took us right to the entrance of Machu Picchu and we were the only ones there! Just kidding. Everyone else in the world was there, too. But still…Machu Picchu!

After waiting in that line and getting our tickets scanned…

…we walked up a path and turned the corner to see this!

Group photo with one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, check! We went on to tour the grounds and the various structures, and we learned about the religious, ceremonial, and agricultural aspects of each area. I’m especially fascinated by the astronomical features of the Inca sites. The Incas worshiped the sun, and they aligned their structures to tie into the sun’s movement on significant ceremonial dates. Eddie pointed out several features of Machu Picchu that illustrate how the Incas honored the sun.

Oh, and there were also llamas!

Shortly before Chris and I left for Peru, we heard the news about changes to the rules for tourists at Machu Picchu which became effective just a few days before we were set to arrive. Basically instead of allowing visitors to roam freely around the site, a specific set of paths has been set, and entrance must be accompanied by a guide. Not knowing in advance how the rules would work, I worried that the new restrictions would keep me from getting the one photo I wanted – the postcard view from the top near Watchman’s Hut.

Our tour did stick to a specific path, only in one direction, and guards were posted throughout to keep tourists from straying off that route. We had to exit Machu Picchu and re-enter in order to climb up to Watchman’s Hut and we did so without Eddie, but for some reason that was allowed with no issues. If I remember correctly, you are allowed to re-enter Machu Picchu two times as long as it was within your ticketed timeslot, but I’m not exactly sure why we didn’t need a guide to go up to the hut.

We ended up having to choose between this and the Huayna Picchu hike though, because we only had time to do one or the other. I’m a slow hiker as it is, and I think I would have taken even longer on HP with the steepness. I also really (really really) wanted to see the Watchman’s Hut view. So Huayna Picchu is on the list for next time! I’m glad we chose to climb up to Watchman’s Hut because the view is spectacular and I did get the shot I wanted (even if the lighting wasn’t quite perfect), plus some fun pictures of us.

Side note: I should be mention that I failed to wear bug spray at Machu Picchu even though I knew it was recommended and I even brought it with me. I’m all smiles in the photos from that day, but what I didn’t know at the time was that I would end up with a dozen of the reddest, itchiest bites I’ve ever endured, and that even as I’m writing this blog post two months later, I still have marks on my legs! I implore you to wear bug spray!

I feel like this would be a fine place to end our story in Peru, but transportation woes continued to be an issue for us as we attempted to make our way back to Cusco. The trains were shut down during our day in Aguas Calientes since the tracks were still being dismantled by the protesters. At least this time we were able to linger over a delicious lunch in the Inkaterra hotel instead of at the train station. We enjoyed the comforts (and WiFi) of the lobby while we awaited our train.

We waited all afternoon with no news until all of a sudden our window of opportunity arose and we rushed to the train station. This was another time on our trip that I was incredibly thankful to have a guide. If Chris and I had visited Machu Picchu on our own, we might not have even reached Aguas Calientes, or if we had, we could have gotten stranded there. Eddie managed to arrange our train transfer back to Ollantaytambo, and I suspect he had to work some magic to expedite things for us. We breezed by throngs of weary travelers who seemed surprised and perhaps a little disgruntled that we were on the next train out. Again, I don’t know what went on behind the scenes to make that happen and I was happy Eddie expertly handled it for us. We breathed a sigh of relief when we were seated on the train and it actually departed.

Upon arriving at Ollantaytambo, trying to exit the train station was somewhat of a mob scene (see blurry iPhone snap below). Hundreds of people were pressed against the fences yelling and shouting, trying to get in, possibly after having been delayed all day or maybe even from the day before. Our group had to wedge ourselves out of the gate and through the crowds, trying to keep a close eye on each other. Cars and vans lined every inch of the roads with drivers attempting to locate their passengers amidst the confusion. They, too, had waited all day for clients or family/friends who were unable to reach the station on time if at all.

We located our van in the chaos and piled in for the long ride back to Cusco in which our driver expertly navigated the back roads to avoid potential protester road blocks. We reached Cusco late in the evening and deposited each of the trekkers at their respective hotels. Chris and I said goodbyes to our newfound friends, with whom we formed bonds over adventure, new experiences, and the wonders of Inca history, and retired to our room for the night. (Actually we ended up going to grab Subway sandwiches at about 10:30pm, and then we hit the hay.)

Even with the drama we encountered with getting to and from the citadel, Machu Picchu certainly did make for a superb grand finale to our week. Mountain Lodges of Peru calls this trek a “seven-day journey through the rich history, living culture and magnificent landscape of Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas,” and I can’t think of a better way to spend a week in Peru. I loved every minute of it…minus the bug bites.




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Lares Adventure – Day 6: Ollantaytambo

Chris and I are playing a virtual game of Travel Snafu Bingo. We have marked off the squares for the ordinary travel misfortunes like lost luggage, food poisoning, and canceled flights, but we’ve also checked off tropical storms, hurricanes, a volcano eruption, a virus outbreak, a parasite that required cryosurgery, and a couple of other mishaps. After our trip to Peru, we get to cross off local protests/strikes! (Note to the Universe: I am in no way trying to jinx ourselves or ask for additional troubles to occur.)

And I’m certainly not complaining – we have been incredibly fortunate to weather the storms and setbacks safely and have avoided any true disasters during our adventures, knock on wood. We have also learned some valuable lessons and life skills along the way! (Always wear bug spray in Central America.)

When we arrived in Peru to the rumblings of a teachers’ strike in Cusco, we didn’t think it would really affect our travel all that much. But as details unfolded and as the strike grew in intensity, we learned that the impact to travel might be quite significant since large groups of protesters were blocking streets and train tracks in and out of the region. Sure enough, as we arrived by van outside of Ollantaytambo on Day Six, we were stopped in the road before we reached our destination in town.

With beautiful weather on our side and our destination only a mile away, we were able to simply hop off the van and successfully carry all of our bags and belongings on our backs and hoof it up the hill into town. From there, we made our way over to the day’s archaeological site – the Sun Temple ruins of Ollantaytambo.

Apparently climbing that hill into town was just a warm-up for the steps of the Sun Temple. More evidence of how fit those Inca people must have been!

We explored the ruins and enjoyed views of the town from various points on top of the temple, which we learned was also used as a fortress to where Manco Inca retreated during the Spanish conquistador siege of Cusco. Stopping to take photos of the town also served as an excuse to catch my breath after several flights of stairs. Ollantaytambo sits around 9160 feet and wasn’t the highest part of our trek of course, but it’s still enough elevation to make one huff and puff a little after 200 or so steps.

Chris is taller than the average Inca.

After touring the ruins, we climbed back down and headed straight for the railway station in order to catch our 11:15am train to Aguas Calientes. The only problem was…the trains had all stopped running. Protesters sitting on the tracks that day managed to successfully block all trains coming in and out of Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu.

So our patient and hopeful group crossed our fingers, piled our bags in the covered shelter area of the train station, and we waited for news on the train service. We ate our boxed lunches, drank the complimentary coffee, and shared sympathetic smiles with other stranded travelers all worried about the prospect of not being able to reach Machu Picchu.

Over the next several hours, hundreds of additional passengers joined us on the platform to wait for the Little Engine That Could even though it couldn’t. A group of school children performed cheerful songs and dances in the grassy area behind the shelter. All of this was going on while our faithful guide, Eddie, paced the tracks and stayed on his cell phone to keep informed about the current situation.

He found out from his sources that no trains were able to run, and that some trains were stopped along the railway with passengers on board. We heard reports of the protesters ripping up parts of the train tracks and becoming violent, including throwing objects, rocking cars, and starting fires, which is one of the reasons why it wasn’t ever feasible for us to walk the 20-ish miles along the tracks to Machu Picchu.

Thankfully we also eventually received news that the Cusco police arrived to the scene and were able to step in to remove some of the demonstrations blocking the tracks. Track repair happened at an impressive rate, trains slowly began to move again, and after over six hours at the station we finally boarded a train! We were lucky to be the first group in line for the next train and to arrive safe and sound (albeit much later than expected) to Aguas Calientes. We read heartbreaking stories on social media of people who were completely cut off from reaching Machu Picchu, or who were stranded without accommodations.

The demonstration drama actually continued to be an issue for us on Day Seven and that blog post is next, but spoiler alert: we totally got to see Machu Picchu, the Big Finale to our Sacred Valley adventure!

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Lares Adventure – Day 5: Urubamba

So far on the Lares Adventure, our main method of seeing the Sacred Valley was via hiking and from the window of the occasional van ride, so on Day Five, Chris and I were excited to add mountain biking to the mix. At the beginning of the trek when we saw “mountain bike along the Urubamba river and end up at a local brewery” as one of the day’s options, we signed up before you could say, “cerveza!”

We found out the night before though, our ride would no longer end up at the brewery, but that we’d go to the brewery in the evening instead. We decided to forge ahead with the two-wheel adventure anyway, so after long and a twisty van ride back down the mountains, we met up with our mountain bike guides for the day to get situated with a bike, helmet, and gloves. I’m pretty sure this was my first time riding a real mountain bike! (I’ve always had a hybrid or road bike.)

The first half of our bike ride was exactly what I envisioned – peacefully riding a wide dirt road along the river and taking in the fresh air, pedaling with breathtaking scenic views of the mountains, and waving to the occasional locals working the land.

The second half of our ride took a bit of a weird turn though! Following our guides, we crossed a road over into the town and exchanged our peaceful tra-la-la style ride into a hectic mix of dodging town traffic, riding narrow paths with challenging terrain (at least challenging for a beginner mountain biker; Chris did great with all of it, of course), and hauling ourselves up some hills that sometimes forced me to walk my bike up the slope.

It was more of a frustrated stomp rather than walk, really. Granted, I found out at the end I was using a gear that was way too heavy for riding uphill, but still. Combine that with almost falling over every time I didn’t successfully navigate an obstacle plus my mismanaged expectations, and I got a little cranky on the second half of the ride. I clearly needed more mountain biking skills to enjoy this half of the excursion.

In hindsight, we wouldn’t have chosen the bike ride if it wasn’t connected to the brewery (we sound like two lushes, but we just enjoy trying new beers!). I’m glad we still went though. I loved the first half and it’s not like I get to ride a bike through the Sacred Valley of Peru every day. And apparently I provided some good entertainment to the townspeople as I screamed my way through several blind traffic intersections. You’re welcome, Urubamba!

I happily ditched the mountain bike and helmet when we ended up at our fairytale accommodations for the night, K’uychi Rumi Lodges.

Seriously. Look at the cute little path we took to get to our lodge. Every inch of the path was lined with dozens of different varieties of flowers. There was even a lime tree. I couldn’t put my camera down!

After unlocking the front door with our llama keychained-key, we walked into a large, airy space with a cozy rustic feel. We had access to a full kitchen, a dining room, a sunken living room, and there was a bedroom on the first floor along with a bathroom. Tea and coca leaves were available for our enjoyment. I forgot to take a photo, but the door in the kitchen exited to a cute garden area with outdoor seating.

Upstairs we found another bedroom and a second bathroom. Some of the people in our group shared a lodge, but we ended up having this one to ourselves. We would have loved having all of this space if we were staying in the area for a few nights!

Not only was I happy to get settled in, but I was even happier that lunch was next on the schedule, and we were treated to a delicious Peruvian-style barbecue (that I totally forgot to photograph because I was ravenous) in a lovely outdoor setting.

With satisfied bellies, we all headed out in the late afternoon for a quick stroll through the town of Ollyantaytambo with its Incan water system (aqueduct canals cut out of stone) and the original Incan street names.

And finally, we ended up at Cervecería Del Valle Sagrado. Chris and I loved this little brewery in the valley, and had fun trying a couple of their brews. The place and the line-up on tap reminded us more of an American style than what we pictured when thinking of a Peruvian craft brewery, but for good reason – the original brewmaster hails from Washington, D.C., and originally started his foray into brewing in Oregon!

We took a tour in addition to trying a couple of pints (all of the glassware for flights was currently in-use) and learned how the crew sources their ingredients and produces a final product. They’ve won some awards and the tap room was quite busy, so it looks like the craft beer scene is alive and well deep in the Sacred Valley.

Next in the queue: a drama-filled Day Six as we return to Ollantaytambo to try to see the Sun Temple amidst some local turmoil!



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