Sunday, February 22, 2015

Flying Fancy for Free

I am not a "luxury traveler" by any means. While I treat myself to cake pops and chai lattes whenever possible, spending extra money to fly first class had never crossed my mind. So I was super excited when my sister, Katie, won first-class Delta tickets to *anywhere in the United States* and invited *me* of all people with her. In order to make the most of her winnings, we decided to travel as far as we possibly could on them, which meant Hawaii. I've already written about how wonderful our trip to Hawaii was, and knowing we were going for free made it even more fun to plan our helicopter ride, boat tour, hike, trek the see the sunrise on top of a volcano, and our meals.

Flying with vouchers meant that not every flight was available to us, so my flight schedule was JFK to Atlanta to LAX to Kauai. Katie was flying from Philly to Atlanta, which is where we met up. At JFK I was able to take advantage of the Delta Sky Club, the first-class lounge. I also enjoyed the Sky Club when I flew to Italy because at that time I held Gold Status with Delta and my first stop was international. The Delta Sky Club is incredible and makes you feel like you're a princess. Free drinks, free snacks galore, wifi, charging stations, comfy chairs, nice bathrooms, and more - all away from the normal hustle and bustle of the rest of the airport. If I ever have access to the first-class lounge again, I may go to the airport a whole week early.

First class was obviously pretty nice, but I remember not having a personal video screen on my flights from JFK and Atlanta. They were older planes so I get that, but I had a personal video screen when I flew to Ireland in 1998, so it seemed a little too outdated, especially for first class. I usually use my flights to catch up on my movies, so this was a little sad for me. But the benefits of boarding first, the free drinks from the moment I boarded, and the comfier and larger seat than normal all made up for this. Hashtag legroom. Plus, check out what the meals were like: 

On our flight from Atlanta to LAX, a gentleman boarded right before me. I heard someone call out "Luda!" and I turned to Katie and said, "I think that might be Ludacris..." (the rapper) but she gave me a look of "Yeah, right" as we were just facing his back. I said, "He's got Louis Vuitton luggage and he's flying first class and he lives in Atlanta." She was convinced when we boarded the plane and saw him sitting just two rows ahead of us. The number of people who passed him and took photos without his permission was astonishing. I hope that when I'm famous people leave me alone when I fly so that I can focus on my crossword puzzles.

Katie and I shared a flight back from Hawaii to LAX but then I flew direct back to NYC, whereas she had to go back to Atlanta to get to Philly. This was my favorite flight because I had the option of sitting in Business Elite, which is better than first class. In Business Elite, you basically get an entire pod to yourself. The seat reclines all the way back, you have a down comforter and pillow, an amenities kit, and more. I also watched Frozen for the first time on this flight, which I probably should have watched before our sisters trip rather than afterward. Because I was in my own little world in my Business Elite pod, I didn't feel weird about sobbing hysterically throughout the movie.

Much to my delight, I was upgraded to first class on the rest of my flights in 2014, a long weekend with the family in Montreal (where I ate some awesome breakfasts and one extra-adorable lunch) and a quick day trip to Buffalo (where I indulged at the number one restaurant in the city). I tried to casually make my way into the Delta Sky Club at LGA when I went to Montreal, but I was denied. It seems as if it's not permissible if you've just been upgraded instead of having a voucher or being Gold Status or above.

I loved my experiences flying first class and got quite used to it with nine flights in a row, but I was *not* upgraded on my trip to Charleston in January and was forced to sit in coach. At least I got to sit with my cousins Emily and Christie who I wouldn't have been able to gab with if I'd been upgraded. The flight was still great and full of giggles. With that said, Delta, if you'd like to upgrade me on the way to Lisbon or on the way back from Barcelona, I am SO FOR IT.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Charleston - Jailhouse Shock

I've been pretty open with my feelings about spirits in this blog. I was terrified as a kid and am curious as an adult, sometimes finding myself on ghost tours, in graveyards, or seeking out the chance to have an encounter over a beverage, both in New York and in New Orleans. It sounds a little obsessive when I put it like that and link to many other posts, but it's totally normal, just like every other thing about me...

I was thrilled that a few of my frousins wanted to go to Charleston with me over MLK weekend and, even better, that they agreed to partake in a ghost tour while there. We had a number of choices, but decided on a Bulldog Tour of the Charleston Jail - which happened to be at night, and happened to be a situation where we'd basically be trapped inside with the spirits. Good thing I didn't think about this too much beforehand, or I may not have gone. Really good thing I didn't check out the website before we went, which warns:

**This is quite possibly the scariest place you will ever go. 
The experience is NOT recommended for small children or men that cry easily.**

What were we getting ourselves into?!?!

Our guide, Sean told us stories of the people who were held in the jail in absolutely horrific conditions. His tales made us less scared and more sad for the people who had to spend their lives actually trapped inside, often without a fair trial or for a misunderstanding. The jail was severely overcrowded and thousands died while being held there, most from diseases like cholera and dysentery.

This tour was spooky without being cheesy. We were encouraged to take pictures while inside, and instructed to use the flash and take one picture right after another. If we saw something in the second picture that wasn't in the first, which he said could just be a blotch or a line, chances were, it was a sign of a spirit. Later in the tour, Sean mentioned that people have noticed their flashes and cameras not working well or their full batteries suddenly being low, which is typically blamed on the energy of the spirits inside the jail. A few of us did experience difficulty with our cameras that night. Did I find something in these pictures below? You be the judge.

Sean told the story of Lavinia Fisher, known as America's first female serial killer, who he and others believe was not guilty. Horses have freaked out while walking past the jail and people have then seen a figure of a woman standing in a particular window that does not have a floor underneath it. The figure is said to be Lavinia, who is rumored to have worn her wedding gown on the way to the gallows and who may have said "If you have a message for the devil, tell me now, because I'll be seeing him soon" as her last words. Lavinia was also the subject of a Ghost Adventures episode, a clip of which you should probably watch here. (No, but really.)

The scariest part of the tour was when we were led to the basement and the door was shut behind us. We were in complete darkness and I think I was holding on to all three of my cousins and my sister at that point. And maybe my entire body was shaking. It was there that Sean told us of recent encounters in the room where people have been shoved into the walls by forces unknown and that one tour guide in particular was pushed and then had a weird handprint on his back for a few days. I think it was during this story when I went a little berserk and started saying, "No. No. No no no no no no."

I'll probably get teased for saying this, but I did feel a little different when we left the jail. I normally am at the front of the pack when walking with a group and I was lagging a lot, finding it hard to keep up with everyone. It may have had something to do with the fact that I'd just gotten over some form of the flu earlier that week, but it maybe, just maybe, had something to do with the spirits.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Have Your Pancake and Eat it Too

February is not typically a fun month, especially in New York, with the dirty slushy snow that will be piled up for weeks and the bitter wind that forces you to break your self-imposed rule of one cab a week. But, alas, there is a saving grace...for I have just discovered that at Clinton St. Bakery Company on the Lower East Side, February is PANCAKE MONTH.

Pancakes for dinner are always a glorious idea and remind me of childhood. When I was growing up and my mom got out that Bisquick while I was nerding out on my homework, she and I both knew there would be no struggle to finish my meal that night. When Davesh suggested we eat pancakes for dinner sometime this month and sent me the menu for Clinton St., I was all in. And by all in, I mean, I may have created a spreadsheet with the specialty pancakes and their corresponding dates and cross-referenced it with my work, trivia, and social calendars.

Tonight was the first night of Crunchy Banana Pancakes with Cinnamon-Chili-Chocolate Sauce, which was one of the top three pancakes I'd highlighted on my spreadsheet. This was my first time at Clinton St. and Davesh's first time this week. We didn't *need* to have appetizers for pancakes but since I'd stayed at work a little later than usual waiting for Davesh to be finished and spent my extra time drooling over the website, I wanted to try more menu items.

So instead of eating one unhealthy thing for dinner, we had many more. Martha Stewart called Neil (the chef) the "King of Biscuits" so I was glad to see four hot fresh 'scuits delivered to the table when we sat down. We ordered the special Queso Mac & Cheese and the Crispy Idaho Potato Skins which are not like regular potato skins but are more like cheese fries, with Monterey Jack, jalapeño sour cream, and jalapeños themselves.

I over-appetized a little (per usual) so I came no where close to finishing my pancakes but oh. my. gosh. The fluffiness. The fried banana on top. The slight kick of the chili in the rich, carefully drizzled chocolate sauce. They were, dare I say it, up to par with my mom's Bisquick's pancakes. Mom - stop reading now. They were better. So much better. I want them every day. of. my. life.

These particular banana pancakes are only available until Friday, but I'm also quite interested in these upcoming items (descriptions from Clinton St.):
  • Blueberry Crumb Streusel with fresh blueberry sauce, vanilla bean whipped cream and warm maple butter
  • Chocolate Chunks, fresh raspberries, raspberry-caramel sauce
  • Fresh Coconut Pancakes with caramelized pineapple, bruleed bananas, roasted macadamia nuts, and warm maple butter
  • Raspberry Pancakes: signature raspberry jam, fresh raspberries, toasted almond butter, vanilla bean whipped cream
{this is what I'd look like if I ate pancakes all month}

I am ecstatic that I over-appetized and could not finish my pancakes because I now have two days worth of amazing breakfasts left over. Trust me, I am going to need these breakfasts to get me ready for these frigid February-morning commutes. The only good thing about this month is PANCAKES.

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