Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Eve in a $5K Times Square Hotel Room

We waved goodbye to Spain and hopped on a plane. We had a decent sized layover in Rome.

Turns out the pizza in a Roman airport is still pretty damn good. Lydia woke up feeling not great in Madrid but now innocent things like food and water had become projectiles. She was taking lots of puke breaks and though the pizza was good it did not have the healing properties that I had hoped. While walking to our next gate Lydia pointed at a wall and told me she'd vomited on it while I was taking a nap. Charming.

Both in the airport and on the Alitalia flights home they were playing all the classic American Christmas songs. I thought that was neat.

And man do these people know how to make a commercial. The first time I saw this it brought tears to my eyes and I couldn't tell you why.

Turns out being sick on a plane is the worst.

When we go abroad on Christmas we routinely return on New Year's Eve because the flights then are way cheaper. I relish hitting our friends' New Year's parties the night of returning from someplace exotic. Someone who doesn't know the score will be like "hey what's new I haven't seen you in weeks?" and I'll be like "Iceland son!" and slap them in the face. It's a guilty pleasure.

Anyway this time we were going to alter the script a little.

In October American Express sent me an email with an offer that if I spent a grand on my Hilton Amex card then they'd give me one free night pretty much anywhere Hilton Hiltons. So I says to myself, I says: "How can I make these people regret giving me even the smallest amount of power?" I did a little research and figured out that the most expensive rooms at the most expensive time anywhere on the damn earth are in Times Square. On New Year's Eve. And then I booked it. KABOOM.

Now I am become Death, the destroyer of credit card promotions.

Just for giggles I put my room at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton - Times Square in my shopping cart to have a gander. The total for a two room suite (the humblest hotel reservation in the building) for one night came to... over $5K. How would you like to pay $650 in taxes for one night in a hotel room? I'm confused how this could even be a transaction that humans would take part in.

News of our killer room spread and soon our good friends Brandon and Zoe had booked a flight to meet us and party. I was impressed that they flew all that way just to fart around in a hotel room for one night. When you're cool you're cool, what can I say?

I had apparently gotten myself onto a list of people who dearly hate their money because I started getting strange offers from the DoubleTree sales team:

Dear Valued Guest:
We are excited to celebrate with you the most anticipated time of the year – the New York City New Year’s Eve celebration! 
Our concert view suites offer views of Broadway where you can enjoy the New Year’s Eve concerts and festive at the comfort of your room with this Year’s headliner Mariah Carey performing among many others! 
The Prime Party View Suites are located from our 9th floor to 14th floor.  If you would like to book the upgrade in advance or not later than December 28, 2016, we can offer $200 discount for the prime floors for a total of $1,800 only!

Below are our other options on for the convert view upgrades:
Floors 15 – 20 $1,600
Floors 21 – 24 $1,400
Floors 25 – 26 $1,200
Floors 27 – 29 $1,000
Floors 30 and above - $800

Deliciously the sadly spelled email included some pictures of the available view taken by past guests.

So for the initial $5K plus an additional $1,800, I could get the chance to see the top of Justin Bieber's head from 9-14 floors up. Now that's an exciting limited time offer.

Whelp, we landed in New York, time to do this thing.

Even Google Maps was excited.

Lydia was less excited. She was looking a bit better I think but was still feeling ill. She believes that she got sick yesterday in Madrid on Fungi Mountain. I ate some of it too though so I have my doubts about this theory.

Uber guy while driving us to Times Square: "People are crazy there. Good luck for you."

Each ring of the barricade that we passed through on our way to the hotel was littered with the unworthy who didn't have a pass and so were in various states of acceptance. Some were whining or trying to talk their way past in vain, while others were in the process of getting directions from the helpful police. From the looks of it not being me sort of sucks. Speaking of sucking this video is long and nothing happens. Don't watch it no matter what.

We met up with Brandon and Zoe and soaked up the view.

There were countdowns and confetti blasting every hour for hours. We could open the window and stick our hands out to catch confetti.

I ordered us some hideous yet festive light up glasses and Zoe brought them with.

While we were in a well placed building for the show we couldn't actually see the ball drop. Which I know, is lame. The only view we got of the ball the whole night was to go up as high as the elevator would take us then look out through the hallway window. That tiny blue speckle next to that bright red reflection is the ball.

Watching other people nervously open bottles of champagne as if defusing a bomb is most definitely the best part of champagne. To be specific this is a Spanish cava that was imported by me about 3 hours ago. Not. A big. Deal.

We pre-gamed and watched some of the show on TV. Sometimes we could see the show that was on our TV also out the window. Sometimes we would turn the sound off on the TV so we could hear the music through the window. It was fun, but I didn't spend five thousand pretend dollars on a hotel room to sit in no hotel room. No sir.

Lydia stayed in the room and nursed her mushroom hangover.

Outside the DoubleTree is what I would describe as a happy riot. There was pushing, there was crying, there were a whole whole lot of police.

Ryan Seacrest was there. We could see the stage we just couldn't see what was happening atop it.

Poor Mariah Carey was the headliner this year. Wow was it bad. Something was wrong with the sound, and Mariah didn't seem to have come intending to actually sing, so she just sauntered around on stage sometimes singing and sometimes letting the music sing like a lazy karaoke performance. Man was it bad. Sure glad I didn't spend a ton of money to watch it from above!

It was fun to have seen the meltdown live though.

Well then it was time for the actual ball drop. For some reason New York's finest at this point in time decided to release the throngs that had been stuck behind the multiple levels of barricade we'd passed though earlier. A stampede developed with all kinds of people pushing to try to see the ball which I don't believe was possible. I kept getting pushed up against a metal fence thing and a nearby policeman kept saying to stay behind it. Well I was about the only person who listened. I just have a deep respect for the law what can I say? I got separated from those other two turn coats but I spent the countdown with my friend Sinatra.

We popped back up to the room to avoid the trample of people all trying to leave at once. It really cleared out fast down there.

Inside the hotel.

We popped back outside to witness the aftermath.

Now that's a lot of confetti.

People who showed up this morning to get a good spot to see the show were not allowed to leave and were not provided bathrooms. Apparently the drugstores in the area do brisk business selling adult diapers. Grown man with a diaper rash is quite a sad way to start the new year but I am not one to judge. So in conclusion I believe what happened here was someone drank a bottle of water, ripped the top off said bottle, peed into said bottle, then delicately placed said bottle on the sidewalk, thereby completing the water cycle.

We wandered away from Times Square a bit and were not disappointed. This is a giant neon menorah in the back of a pickup truck driven by what seems to be an Orthodox Jewish dude. Of course it is.

Based on its auspicious start I think it's pretty clear that 2017 is going to be a fantastic year.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Last Day in Spain, Ditched the Walking Tour

Our last day in Spain had arrived. We'd already hit everything so hard that we didn't have any "must-dos" left and we could just enjoy ourselves.

We had one last walking tour to do and it met in Plaza Mayor, the scene of last night's Christmas Market.

As I mentioned yesterday the tourists in Madrid are many, and our tour group was so large it had to be split into two.

We stopped for a spell near El Convento de Corpus Christi. The convent is home to a group of nuns who are cloistered and have no contact with the outside world. To make money they bake cookies, and there's an amusing system inside where you can buy the cookies from them without seeing them. They have like a little revolving door thing where you set your money and spin it around, which they then put your cookies on and spin it back.

Of course they weren't selling today. Probably still due to the aftershocks of Christmas. Oh well.

It was around this point in the tour that we decided we'd had enough Spanish history repeated to us for one lifetime and we ditched the tour group. We're bad.

We did what any self respecting kid playing hooky from school does: went to the mall!

I'm kind of jealous how cool the ambulances here look.

I was really excited to eat at Restaurante Sobrino de Botín. It turned out to be one of my favorite meals of the entire trip, and one of Lydia's least favorite. Them's the breaks sometimes. El Botín is the Guinness world record holder for longest continuously operating restaurant in the world, opening its doors in 1725. The experience dovetailed nicely with the time I visited the oldest bar in the world with my parents in Ireland.

While being led to our table we had to walk through the kitchen. There were chefs everywhere and flames and meat and vegetables all over the place. It was really fun to see. There's no way that would happen in the US.

I went with the house menu because I figured I could trust the taste of such a distinguished house.

Rioja is a well known wine region in Northern Spain.

Wikipedia says that sopa de ajo is "an egg, poached in chicken broth, and laced with sherry and garlic". It's apparently a winter tradition around these parts. I liked it a lot.

El Botín is famous for its cochinillo asado, or roast suckling pig. Our waiter brought in a whole little pig, tiny tail and all, and proceeded to dismantle it on a nearby table before bringing over a big chunk for your intrepid hero.

Lydia on the other hand insisted on ordering a pile of giant limp mushrooms which I'm not sure the pig would have even wanted to eat. I couldn't really tell you why Lydia hates her mouth.

What's that, these two pig chewing, rioja wine drinking adventurers seem like something out of a classic novel? Well, it is very kind of you to notice. Ernest Hemingway closes The Sun Also Rises with a scene at El Botín:

“It’s rotten here in the hotel. Do you know a place called Botin’s?” I asked the barman.
“Yes, sir. Would you like to have me write out the address?”
“Thank you.”
We lunched up-stairs at Botin’s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.
“How do you feel, Jake?” Brett asked. “My God! what a meal you’ve eaten.”
“I feel fine. Do you want a dessert?”
“Lord, no.”
Brett was smoking.
“You like to eat, don’t you?” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “I like to do a lot of things.”
“What do you like to do?”
“Oh,” I said, “I like to do a lot of things. Don’t you want a dessert?”
“You asked me that once,” Brett said.
“Yes,” I said. “So I did. Let’s have another bottle of rioja alta.”
“It’s very good.”
“You haven’t drunk much of it,” I said.
“I have. You haven’t seen.”

Thankfully our meal did end with dessert. I shared some with Lydia despite the shameful fact that she hadn't finished eating Fungi Mountain.

I didn't know about the Hemingway connection until returning to the US and doing a little research to write this blog post. Writing this thing is sort of like going on the trip all over again except now I can experience everything at my leisure. It's fun. It seems that I've been sort of inadvertently stalking Hemingway the last few years. I visited his cat infested house in Key West, had a daiquiri at a bar he frequented in Havana, and now I was at a restaurant in Madrid he liked to eat. A New York Times article interviewing the family that owns the joint had some funny anecdotes:

“Don Ernesto once wanted to make paella,” Carlos said. “And so our grandfather allowed him to go into the kitchen to make it.” 
Was it any good? 
“Apparently not,” he said, laughing. “It was the last time they let him cook anything.” 
Mr. Gonzáles’s grandfather, however, did give Hemingway the privilege of making his own martinis. “He would get here early in the day and write upstairs until his friends showed up for lunch,” Antonio said.

The bar was quite unique looking.

We didn't go in this place I just thought the exterior looked really cool.

So as I stated earlier those lazy nuns who were supposed to be baking cookies for me were busy playing white elephant gift exchange or who knows what else up in their high tower. Luckily there was a shop nearby selling baked good from other Spanish convents.

At night we hit a place that was on our tapas tour from last night but had been closed. It was really awful and should consider staying closed in the future.

We accidentally ordered this horrid low alcohol, sickly sweet fizzy crap excuse for a wine. I'm confused why this was even on the menu.

The free dish that came with the wine was these really nasty olives mixed with some weird yellow beans. I enjoy olives and rarely encounter those that I do not wish to eat.

Luckily this place had not yet devised a way to ruin Spain ham.

Lastly, octopus wall. Just because. 

Goodbye, sweet Spain. May we meet again for some bullfighting!