Just back from two weeks of limping the streets of the mysterious East. No, not that one. The one with Montreal and the Back Bay and Manhattan. It’s only mysterious to me because I’ve haven’t spent much time there.
Don’t worry. I have no slides. Just a few notes that might be helpful if you find yourself alone on a bench on Mont Royal because your travel companions don’t want to hear another word about your sprained/broken ankle.
Except for a rundown motel in Saratoga Springs, the cheapest lodging of the journey was at the Sheraton Four Points in Chelsea. The reviews say look out for mold. We didn’t see any. The location was good and the price, south of $140 not including tax, was super by NYC standards.
Everyone said, “If you’re going to be in Chelsea, you’ve got to go on the Highline.” We did go even though we didn’t know what it is. It’s an elevated walkway, a former rail line or somesuch, and it goes on for a long way and you get to see the city from a different perspective. Pretty cool.
At the north end of the Highline, we found our best meal of the NYC leg of the trip. Chelsea Market. Lobster rolls. There must be a lot of lobster around this year because everyone’s pushing lobster rolls. Even Arby’s. OK, probably not Arby’s.
I limped past the Chelsea Hotel, the one made famous by Janis Joplin and others.
Arrived in NY just in time for the July 4 fireworks show over the river. Either the East River or the other one. Biggest fireworks show I ever saw.
NY has been overrun by people, lots and lots of them. People everywhere you look. Some might not be tourists.
We wanted to see a play but the prices were out of our range. We are not Cal Am shareholders. We kept entering the Hamilton lottery for discount tickets but no dice. So we spent $7 apiece for some cool shows at the Upright Citizens Brigade, a Second City type place where everyone’s trying to make it to Saturday Night Live. Very funny. One of the players was Aaron Jackson, who plays Ivanka on the Funny or Die web series “Jerad and Ivanka.”
Two thirds of our party wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge all the way to hip Williamsburg. However, one third of our party is still limping pitifully from that ankle injury. You might have heard about that. So we rented a wheelchair for the trip. This third of our party quickly learned what it feels like to become invisible in a crowd.
Departing NYC in a rented Prius, we spent that one night in Saratoga Springs. If seemed like California, the Saratoga, Los Gatos, Menlo Park part. Lots of well-off people eating and drinking well.
The least crowded part of New York state is farther north, way up there along Lake Champlain. It is beautiful and there is like nobody there, not even on a July weekend. In charming Willsboro, the hamburger stand is open only on weekends. It is a great place to relax before driving to Montreal. (More about Lake Champlain in a later installment.)
The last time I was in Quebec was 40 years ago. English was still legal for most purposes. Now, as soon as you drive across the border, you realize that you know no French at all and will have to rely on instinct. Not only were there no English subtitles on the highway signs, I swear I saw some fine print saying “nope, no English here either,” only in French. It was nice, though, because it was a lot like going to Paris without having to deal with airline food.
Now that everything is online, it is hard to find tour books in many cities. If they exist at all, they are in major bookstores, and if you don’t speak French, you will have a hard time finding one of those in Montreal.
Montreal is a wonderful city. In Old Montreal, we ate at a Polish restaurant where Kate McGarrigle used to play the piano before her sister died and Kate stopped singing. I’d like to think their friend Leonard Cohen dropped by at times but the young wait staff wasn’t sure. Another highlight was the food at Moleskine, where we bumped into Giancarlo Esposito, who plays the owner of the Mexican chicken restaurant on “Better Call Saul.”
MAPLE SYRUP, 3 GALLONS FOR $100
Burlington, Vermont, is also on Lake Champlain but it is worlds away from the sleepy New York side. Bernie Sanders used to be mayor there and he did a heckuva job. Great waterfront. Good shopping. Good college. Think Santa Cruz with skiing instead of surfing.
The rest of Vermont and New Hampshire also stacked up nicely but they were a means to an end for us. We were headed to Boston.
I tried to visit Boston 40 years ago but arrived by car at rush hour in the rain and sort of got washed away by it all. Much better this time.
In Little Italy, we abided by Boston law and had cannoli from crowded Mike’s Pastry Shop. Very good, but we actually preferred the fresher ones from Maria’s Pastry Shop, a relatively gloomy little shop on the other side of the neighborhood.
We did all the right things in Boston. Ate some beans, fed Paul Revere’s horse, etc., but the big deal was ancient Fenway Park. I grew up a Yankees fan, by virtue of geography and an overly competitive nature. After Fenway, I’m now a Red Sox fan, unless, of course, they’re playing the Giants. World Series next year. You’ll see.
Unfortunately, tickets to Fenway games, especially those against the Yankees, are pricier than Hamilton tickets. Our landlord for the weekend told us the secret. Buy them off Stub Hub but wait until about 30 minutes before the game when a $200 seat in distant left field becomes a $70 seat.
In the middle of the eighth inning, they really do play that awful Neal Diamond song, “Sweet Caroline,” but the enthusiasm makes it better than bearable. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. made a magnificent catch to rob Aaron Judge of a home run and the Sox went on to win. I’m going to have to learn how to spell Yastrzemski.