Five forms of public transport I took in America

  1. Plane. Overrated. Cramped. At least on Qantas all the (predominantly male) flight attendants were cheerful and gave you drawstring bags of goodies to eat in the middle of the night. American Airlines act as their job would be much better if you were not there. Also, they ran out of food on our five-hour cross-country flight and Mommy and I had to split the last turkey bagel. The commuter planes are more cheerful, but they are like buses only not so wide. I did not know what noises to expect them to make and had to watch the single attendant in case I missed a cue to panic.
  2. Train. Better than the plane. Longer, but with scenery and leg room and toilets you can actually get out of your seat to go to. The food is surprisingly worse, but more than made up for by not having to wait at either end and so, in effect, almost the same amount of total travel time. Go Amtrak, who will refund your ticket price if you book for the wrong date and have to rebook immediately after. Also, the New York subway which was clean (the trains, not the stations) and… constant, which was probably its defining virtue. Also easy to navigate and with very pretty mosaics in some of the stations. I did not spend long enough on the Washington Subway to form an opinion.
  3. Bus. Hop-on-hop-off buses are a marvellous invention, even though I froze my lips on the night bus and couldn’t pronounce voiceless bilabial fricatives (I may have mentioned this earlier). A two-day ticket is long enough to get a bit of history and a feel for the layout of the town, a good view and the thrilling frisson that comes from the threat of imminent decapitation. I also went on a night-time trolley bus tour of Washington. It had a jovial director and an occupancy of cheerful American tourists and the windows steamed up because of the rain. Also, free lollipops.
  4. Taxis. Cheap, painted with flowers and almost always easy to catch. Except from the Australian Consulate. GARTH NIX LIED! and I was ten minutes late for Hairspray and had to wait at the back and sit down between songs (I’m not complaining about that, just wishing I could have spent the taxi time at the Consulate instead of on the kerb). And on the last night Mommy and I took a bicycle taxi to the theatre. I thought it was exciting, dodging through traffic and traveling on the wrong side of the road. Mommy said it was $25 of sheer terror. We arrived at the theatre slightly windswept.
  5. Horse-drawn carriage. Mommy and I walked to Central Park on the last day and took a carriage ride through Central Park, past chess players and people sunbaking on rocks, the Carousel and ice-skaters. It was peaceful and charming and fun and they gave us a blanket.

Five Hotels

  1. The Eddison, New York – Slightly decaying art deco hotel in the Times Square District. Comfortable, well-appointed and beautiful, and the things that might have been shabby instead were attractive – the worn carpets had lovely old designs, and the grilles and pipes in the bathrooms were covered with punched tin lace and the lift doors were etched with patterns. Even the door knobs in the old wooden doors were impressive and moulded with the hotel initials. We sat in bed and drank hot chocolate and ate Madeleines. Also, when Genevieve and I were back in NY and trying to find a bathroom near Times Square one night, they let us use theirs.
  2. Country Comfort, Erie – An airport motel, and being a motel and in Erie, cheap. Also spacious, comfortable and with a very large bathroom. No kettle of course, so I could not use the tea bags I had liberated from the At Home the night before. I had to get up early the next morning to catch the airport shuttle which was to leave at the same time breakfast started. But the breakfast buffet was already out (everything from omelettes to doughnuts) and a flight crew and the bus driver were eating and watching the fires in LA.
  3. The Embassy Suites, Conference Centre, Washington – Washington hotels aren’t cheap. And because I did not book this until the day before and didn’t know my way around Washington and it was only one night, I went for the really expensive one. And it showed – a room with an enormous double bed and a bathroom and a sitting room with sofas and table and chairs. The sort of luxury that makes it a shame to not be spending much time there, so definitely a business hotel more than a tourist one (at least for tourists who are trying to see the whole city in a day and a half) .The concierge booked my night tour for me and they had glass urns of water with lemon and of fresh lemonade in the foyer (a highlight). Breakfast was alright as hotel breakfasts go, though they had Tazo tea (which brings me pleasant memories of packages of crafts from America). Room service stopped at 11, which would not be a plus because I really wanted hotel room service, just once and this seemed the hotel to do it at, and because it was late and cold and I’d been out on the night tour in the rain and my stockings were soggy. The vending machine on our floor only had soft drinks and all the cafes nearby were closed. I called reception to ask where I could get food, and they said the vending machines on level 3 had snacks. I put on my coat and shoes over my pajamas and descended, but the machine was full and wouldn’t take any money and I was tired and cold and hungry and called reception again to ask if there was anywhere at all I could get food, and the night manager brought me up a whole box of Pepperridge biscuits (like an Arnotts selection, but thin and buttery and fancy).
  4. Hotel 31, NY – Small. Clean. Not for people with large suitcases, because when I say small, I do mean that. The street frontage is small (although conveniently located across from a non-self-service laundry), though attractive, with carved stone and eagles and so forth. The foyer is small – it gets crowded with three guests. The elevator was the kind where you swing the door open towards you and pull the brass grille aside and can see (and if you wanted, touch) the hotel as it moves past the diamonds of the grille. One person and luggage was about the limit – we took the stairs a lot, but never had any actual trouble with the lift. It was just disconcerting. The room had two single beds, a basin, a hanging rack over the radiator and a desk which was mostly occupied by a television set. It had basically no room for luggage or anything except sleeping, and although it was cleaned everyday we only ever received one set of towel, handtowel and washer between the two of us and had to ring down every night for someone to bring us up another set, at which point they (after a time) would usually bring us three. All the rooms had different wallpaper. Ours had two sorts – one pale cream floral brocade and the other cream and pastel stripes. Another down the hall had a large, dark tartan. There were two bathrooms on the floor, and sometimes there was a queue, but not a very long one. Not a business hotel – but an excellent base of operations when you don’t plan to spend much time in your hotel room. Sort of a luggage locker with benefits. So no complaints, but it was character building and had actual ceiling lights, which was novel.
  5. The New York Helmsley – my mother didn’t want to share a bathroom with other guests once she joined us, so we changed hotels on the last night. Genevieve thought it was very luxurious and I agreed at first, but mostly because we’d just left Hotel 31 which would, frankly, would have fit in the foyer. It was more modern than the Eddison, but the beds were doubles instead of queens (and this mattered because I was sharing with my mother) and the lighting was dim (no ceiling lights) and the view, though respectable, was not as spectacular as Hotel 31’s vista of roof-gardens, chimneys, fire-escapes and the Empire State Building. They did, however, have friendly staff and check us in very early when we showed up on their doorstep and store our bags while we wandered on our last day, something I doubt Hotel 31 would have had the capacity for. They even had a port cochere.

Washington

I arrived at my hotel in Washington at 3pm today after leaving my
motel in Erie at 6am. Spent some time entertaining the daughter of a
Somalian woman while we waited for our luggage.

After checking in I walked through town, past the Washington monument
and the White House and through a small art gallery and had dinner at
a small German delicatessen/konditorei (cake shop)/bar/restaurant.
Then I took a night tour of Washington, past all the major buildings
and stopping at the Roosevelt memorial, the Marine memorial (at
Arlington – based on the photo of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima)
and at the Lincoln/Korean war/Vietnam memorials.

The Korean war memorial was one of the eeriest things I have seen –
faintly ghost-lit white statues of soldiers stalking through a
jungle/garden. In the dark and the wind and the rain, their clothes
almost seemed to move in the breeze. The wall behind is etched with
faces.

It is strange being on my own now. All the other travelers are in groups.