I am so thankful to everyone for voting my (and Mum's) way to NYC. Wished I could have smuggled everyone in my carry-on but even with all the weight we've collectively lost I think I would have been over the limit ;) instead I'll do a play-by-play blog entry so you feel like you were there without the jet lag and crazy singing girl. This is a long one folks (you can click on the pics to get a closer look)...
Friday: We arrived later than we expected. Tons of weather delays. We walked the neighborhood a bit, found a restaurant and I ordered the most unbelievably good Crab Bisque. Explored the hotel. Progresso Soup put us up at the W on Lexington Ave (directly across from the Waldorf Astoria) I'll give some pros and cons in case anyone is planning on visiting NYC
Pros: Bliss Spa toiletries and a super nice housekeeper who hooked us up with extras. All the staff was great. Killer shower... like a rain storm. Near everything. Subway stop a block away. Grand Central Station in walking distance. Lobby is gorgeous. Hopping cocktail lounge (Whiskey Blue) at night. OMG hot guys everywhere. In the AM the lounge is transformed into a tranquil zen experience with yummy clove, star anise scents and ethereal music.
Cons: No coffee makers in room (are they high???) Starbucks across the street but still. Total insanity. $16.95 per night internet charge (hence the lack of posts) Artwork in the room was errr bizarre... we finally decided it was the side of a woman's torso, maybe? The 3-D hallway art by my floor's elevator was bizarre too looked like a spinal column you'd find in the doctors office. I'm not a modern art lover. The beds at the W are hella hard... like play a game of Quarters on them hard. Mum loved it. My post weight loss surgery assbone was not happy. More pros than cons though.
Saturday: Met the staff from the PR Firm (Kelly & Melissa were awesome), General Mills Progresso Soup guys (also super cool), and the camera & film crew that would be following us through the day (nice group) at 7:15 AM in lobby of the hotel. This was the first time I got to meet the other 2 winners of the contest Amanda & Julie (super nice ladies.)
We all piled into a limo (no sunroof, bummer because you know I would have pulled a Tom Hanks in Big.) We were whisked off to the Louis Licari Salon. They do the Today Show makeovers. They had breakfast waiting for us... of course that meant a ton of bagels and yummy looking pastries (I was strong and just had coffee) I made a plate for my Mum with half a bagel & cream cheese, some fruit, and she said the fruity muffin top thingee I picked for her was one of the best muffins she ever ate.
I was told to change into a provided robe. First WOW moment of the day... at my heaviest I used to FREAK when I was told I had to change into a robe or hospital gown. They never fit. I remember one doctor's appointment after informing the nurse that the gown was not adequate to cover my parts... the nurse let out this big sigh, shook her head, took off down the hall and came back and tossed me another gown... one to wear the right way and one to wear on the back. Not my finest hour. So as I stood in the changing room of the Louis Licari salon getting ready for my day of beauty I recalled that experience as I tied the tie of that silky black robe (with oodles of room to spare) Yay! Thank God for weight loss surgery!
First up was a manicure and pedicure with Elena. I went with wild blue toes and conservative pale pink fingers. After the mani & pedi I met my color consultant Dennise and we talked about what she was going to do with my color. I get blonde highlights every few months... uh oh the secret is out I'm not a natural blonde ;) and I wanted to still stay light (I'm a SoCal girl after all.) Dennise suggested evening things out, adding a little more gold, so the difference in regrowth shouldn't be as obvious. It came out great. They even dyed my eyebrows.
Then it was off to my 1 1/2 hour facial and massage with Vera. I was a little nervous because while I was getting washed out from my color I chatted briefly with Amanda and she had just come from her facial... she said it hurt and wasn't looking happy. So I wasn't sure what I was in for. It was painful at times, every part of me was waxed... and I do mean every part. I had some sucking and prodding done but lots of delicious smelling goops and a great massage made up for the ouch moments. No pain, no gain. In the end my face felt fantastic. I literally glowed.
After the facial, I went upstairs to meet my stylist Lena. We talked about my hair condition and how she would cut it to make the curl have a bit more bounce. She was like Edward Scissorhands and I was really really pleased with the final product... not a dramatic change. It was very me (low maintenance, wash & go) but better, more polished.
Somewhere during hair I got to select lunch. I ordered a Chopped Chicken Salad. It was delivered just after the cut and we pressed pause for a moment to eat. My salad was delicious. Will definitely try and replicate it. I'll blog the results. Mum ordered a salad and loved hers too. We sat and watched the activity and chatted with some of the staff and other clients... get this... this staff member comes up to me and says she has the same exact first & last name as me. We established that she was Sicilian too and had relatives (she didn't really know) in the town we used to live in NY. So a relative perhaps. Bizarre. Small world.
After hair the final step was makeup... its funny I was the most nervous about this. I rarely wear makeup. A little concealer and lip gloss is the extent of my beauty routine. I was really happy with the way it turned out. Everyone at Louis Licari was amazing and super nice.
I should mention during and between all these procedures the camera crew (photographer was a hottie, I dig bald guys) and the video crew would come around and snap photos and ask us questions about the procedure we just had or how we are feeling about the day so far. Soooo I am eagerly awaiting Progresso sending those!! They said they would as soon as they get them. Till then here's a sneak peek of my after. The professional photos are soooo much better. For comparison. Here I am the day before I left for NYC. Note the scary skunk line desperately in need of a dye job hair & split ends...
After the makeover, more video interviews and photos we got back in the limo and head over to Saks Fifth Avenue. We went up to the VIP room where the stars go. We each had a private shopping consultant who talked to us about our body type and looks that were in right now. We had $1,000 Visa gift card to spend on whatever we wanted. Seems like a lot but you are talking $750 blouses and $500 scarves. I tried on a few items and was close to buying a $1,000 Marc Jacobs bag (but would be too afraid to ever use it) finally I decided to hold on to the $ and buy a ton of things I actually would use at TJ Maxx when I got home (more my speed)
After the shopping we took more pics and did a final interview and then said our goodbyes. Amanda and Julie looked AMAZING. The final interview was near Rockefeller Center, about a 20 minute walk to Empire State Building which was the plan for the evening so we skipped the limo back to the hotel and walked to the Empire State Building.
I was so glad to get to go at night, I'd only ever been during the day on school field trips. You guys know I am a sucker for romantic movies... Affair to Remember remember how Carey Grant and Deborah Kerr planned to meet on the top of the "nearest thing to heaven we have in New York" July 1st at 5 o'clock and Sleepless in Seattle Jonah running away to meet Annie on Valentine's Day. I know I'm a goober but I was so jazzed. My Mum pointed to the area, near the coin operated telescopes Jonah (Sleepless in Seattle) left his backpack. We laughed and commented that if Jonah's backpack was really left the whole building and city block would be shut down and bomb sniffing robots would have decimated poor Howard the Bear.
We decided we were up for the walk and hoofed it the 25 blocks from Empire State back to Hotel. Another WOW moment from the girl who couldn't walk the pier. We stopped for coffee at some point during the walk Mum had a cinnamon scone (they don't have these in our local Starbucks) and somewhere alone the route we bought a Beef Kabob from a street vendor. I know, I know taking our lives in our hands.
Sunday: Bright and early, we grabbed a taxi to the Battery Park area.
We had tickets (ordered them online) for the 12 noon ferry to the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island but since we had a few hours we walked over to Ground Zero to pay our respects to the heroes that were killed on September 11th.
Have to share this...
A lot of things sucked about being fat but I have two big "straw that broke the camels back" wake-up call moments that led me to decide to have weight loss surgery. The first most of you know was my Dad dying at 67 years old of heart failure and sleep apnea and the subsequent day I was diagnosed with sleep apnea when I was 34. I knew I needed to make some changes or I was more than likely doomed to the same fate and maybe even earlier. The second "straw" though happened while watching the news coverage during 9/11. I remember listening to Charles Gibson on Good Morning America reporting that people who worked in the towers were having to evacuate the building, that some had to walk down 86+ flights of stairs, trudging down floor after floor, in single file, having to squeeze past firefighters in full uniform carrying hoses and emergency equipment on their way up to help those on upper floors. He said with no cabs, subways, or buses running to the area the workers were walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. I remember thinking... I can't walk the length of the mall without needing several breaks, there is NO WAY I could do that at this weight. It took 5 more years till I had weight loss surgery but the horrific events of that day and that news report was definitely was a major factor in my decision to change my life.
It was an emotional morning... after Ground Zero we took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. A memorable experience for my Mum. Her and my Dad (and sis and brother) immigrated from England in the 60's. She has shared with me how scary it is seeing your country get smaller and smaller and then disappear through a boat window, off to the unknown in a new country. Lady Liberty was the first glimpse of the US they saw. She is an awesome greeter. We had tickets to go to the top and the view of the city from the Statue is amazing.
When we docked back in Manhattan we took the subway to Grand Central Station (tons of gourmet foodie shops)
I bought a hunk of my favorite cheese: Burrata from Murray's Cheese Shop, some Cold Cuts from a Deli and we walked back to the hotel and had a hotel room carpet picnic. If you haven't had Burrata seek it out. Just save up those fat grams ;) well worth every one.
We spent the evening at the hotel. At some point I went out exploring alone and found a killer Japanese Deli where I bought myself Ahi Tuna Sashimi and since she's not a fan I picked up some NY Pizza for Mum and we ate our takeout looking at the views from the window of our hotel room.
Monday: We were up bright and early to catch the train to Boston. Boston is my second favorite city in the US (San Diego is first) and Mum had never been there. Since we were so close we added a few days to the trip. What a beautiful ride. Connecticut is gorgeous and the train goes right along the coast through New London, Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport... lovely scenery, trees, nature, sea birds. Total recommend this. When we got to Boston, we took the T (the oldest subway system in the US) a few stops to our hotel. I got a great deal at The Millennium. What an awesome hotel. Pros: Ummm everything ;) No seriously, I loved this hotel. It was beautiful, the staff was awesome, the room was huge and we had a great view. It was near everything (across the street from Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, a block from the North End (Boston's Little Italy) and the Harbor.) Yes, they had a coffee maker AND there was a Starbucks across the street AND they had free awesome coffee in the lobby in the AM. Super soft beds. Huge bathroom with rain head shower. Totally recommend.
We got in pretty early and so we explored the North End, Paul Revere House, The Old North Church (remember one if by land, two if by sea)
Bought Mum a yummy Italian pastry, we sat in the bakery and I was content with the amazing smells. I eat vicariously through others, I like to watch people eat and enjoy something even the things I don't/can't/shouldn't eat and am strangely satisfied by that. This is a post weight loss surgery lucky break I think. I remember the last time I was at that bakery (a trip I took in my college years) I ate 2 pastries and took a bag of cookies for the road. Times have changed. For dinner we ate juicy, cheesy, gooey Mushroom & Swiss Burgers. I had mine wrapped in lettuce. After dinner we looked through all the shops in Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market.
Hung out in Quincy Square till late drinking coffee, listening to a seriously good sax player street musician and people watching.
Tuesday: We woke up and got coffee and breakfast. I had a Starbucks Spinach Egg White Feta Wrap. Before it got too hot we walked most of the Freedom Trail and explored the Boston Commons (The Swan Boats, Frog Pond, The "Make Way for Ducklings" ducks which had been tagged the night before (cleaned by the time we saw them) with the letters BP in protest of the Gulf Oil Spill. There's a better way to get your point across than defacing beautiful public art.
We got back to Quincy Market and we decided to get tickets for an Old Town Trolley Tour all around Boston. Best idea ever. It was one of those hop on, hop off trolleys. We hit all the major areas, jumped off explored an area and then jumped back on. Stumbled on a Farmer's Market (near Trinity Church)
I especially loved all the consignment shops and galleries on Newbury Street. We went into Lush and both had the most unbelievable free hand/arm treatment. I wrote down all the names of the products they used and when I have some spare dough will be getting them. Mum loved it and said her hands have never felt so good (for days after too.) I figure we can do a girlie girl night once a month and give ourselves the treatment.
Lemon Flutter Cuticle Butter
Ocean Salt Cleanser
Buffy Body Butter
The brownstone houses. I win the lottery and I am sooooo buying one of these beauties.
The tour hits every major site: Fenway, the new TDGarden where the Bruins play, Back Bay, Copley Square, Symphony Hall, it even goes over the bridge to Cambridge (where I stayed on my first trip to Boston), we got off at the seaport because our tour included a 45 minute cruise of the Boston Harbor. I was tempted to stop at Starbucks and get a Tea Latte and toss it overboard in commemoration of our Forefathers but I restrained myself ;) plus ummm a $4 Tea Latte in the harbor. I think their tea was 15¢
The cruise was great. It was super hot that day for Boston (90°'s) so nice to get the cool harbor breezes. Great city views and a look at Old Ironsides (USS Constitution), the oldest commissioned warship afloat.
Thank goodness for my Emergency Travel Snacks. Those were lunch. For dinner we picked up take out: Bacon wrapped Scallops and Clam Chowder (chowdah) for Mum and Scallops and Lobster Bisque (potato-less) for me. Mum had Boston Cream Pie. It was Idol finale night so we watched Lee and Crystal and hung out.
Wednesday: Head over to the train station for our return trip to NYC, tried to change tickets to leave from Logan but Southwest wanted a $178 per ticket change fee so we had to return to NYC to fly home. We ate at Au Bon Pain before we boarded. I had the Steel Cut Oatmeal with a few cranberries and pistachios. Yum. The train was lovely with the exception of the last hour when the chick behind us started to sing to her iPod. Unfortunately she was no American Idol heck she wasn't even a Stamford, Connecticut Idol which is about the city where I was tempted to grab her iPod and hurl it off the train. Loud, screechy, off-key, escaped mental patient maybe? Who knows?! I mean I have been known to burst into song in public (I do a mean "Don't Cry for Me Argentina") but this was 30+ minutes of fingernails down a chalkboard, animal in heat, warbling torture. I counted backwards from 100 and went to my happy place. A few more minutes though and I might have needed bail money ;)
Got into Penn Station (still smells like it did when I was a kid, a mix of fuel and urine, lovely) We head over to the third and final hotel of the trip the Doubletree (Lexington Ave) right next door to the W but way cheaper. Which is why I chose it but I wouldn't recommend it. I normally love Doubletrees but this one was old and gray and in serious need of a facelift. We went out exploring and window shopping and dinner: Salmon Sashimi (from that Japanese Deli again) for me, Meatball Hero for Mum and some Grilled Veggies (for both of us). We got back to the hotel in time for the American Idol winner announcement and had Cottage Cheese with Pineapple during Idol results for dessert. I would have been happy with either winner but Lee got my cougar-vote. Roar.
Thursday: Early AM Shuttle to LaGuardia. There were weather delays of 2 hours but thankfully our connection was delayed too. We had nice crews, good magazines, fully charged iPod (nope I didn't sing.) My eating was sketchy though. I survived on nuts, seeds, coffee and water all day. Got home and realized we had nothing in the fridge. Sleep won over food. I guess this day will make up for that huge hunk of Burrata on Sunday ;)
It was an AWESOME trip. So thankful I got to share this experience with my Mum. Thank you to Progresso Soup for hosting the contest and you guys for voting for me. I will never forget it xo