I was hesitant about spending this past weekend in New York – I already feel I have such little time left before I head back to Dallas, and I still have an almost embarrassing amount of uncharted territory to explore here in D.C. This was before a friend told me about the Chinatown Bus, which is one of the phenomena of East Coast travel – it drives back and forth from the Chinatown in D.C. and drops off at the Chinatown in New York for a measly $35 round-trip, which, given the current price of fuel, is pretty amazing. So my friend and travel buddy Ashley and I booked bus tickets for Friday evening at 7.

Having a minimal grasp of time and not wanting to miss out on Social Hour hosted by the Latin American program (a different program hosts Social Hour each week – this one promised flan and tacos; how could I say no?), I left the Wilson Center around 5 and returned home around 5:30 to start packing. I glanced at my printout ticket, which warned me, sternly, to arrive in Chinatown at least a half-hour early or risk my seat being sold. Realizing it was already 6:15, I left my granola bar on the table mid-chew, grabbed my half-packed weekender, left a frantic voicemail on Ashley’s phone and booked it to the Foggy Bottom Metro station.

In my rush, I got off a station too early and, instead of waiting for the next train, ran the 11 blocks to 610 I Street, which turned out to be quite literally an alleyway in a nondescript section of Chinatown. A crowd of extremely irate travelers had formed -turned out the 6 o’clock bus had yet to arrive. Sure enough, it was 10 p.m. before our bus left D.C. And 2 a.m. before we arrived in the supremely sketchy and equally random drop-off spot in New York, where a man in an unmarked van asked if we needed a ride. (As you can probably guess, given that I’ve survived to write this entry, we said no.)

Saturday morning began more auspiciously – a coffee and pastry breakfast (my favorite) and the requisite shopping in Soho. We decided that New York wins points for its H&M, which hands-down beats the sad, picked-over racks of D.C.’s. However, D.C. more than compensates with its Metro system, the Cinderella to NY’s ugly stepsister. The D.C. Metro has five, beautiful, simple, color-coded lines that even someone completely directionally challenged (me, for example) has (almost) no problem navigating. The New York subway has trains with color, letter and number designations, stations which only operate on weekdays and signs which promise train lines that never actually show up. Worst of all, the subway has these horrible turnstiles that lock you out for 15 minutes if you don’t walk through the very second you swipe your card (trust me on this one – it happened more than once).

dc-7.jpgHowever, we braved the subway again to get to the Theatre District – on a week’s notice, we’d managed to get tickets online to a matinee showing of the very silly and very fun Mamma Mia, which featured a winning combination of ABBA songs and polyester bellbottoms.

dc-8.jpgThe theatre was surrounded by a sort of outdoor market which sold everything from pashminas and glass jewelry to socks. (Socks?) My favorite was a stall displaying enormous African straw baskets – I definitely would have gotten one if I thought American Airlines would allow me to stow it under my seat on the flight back to Dallas.

For dinner, we went back downtown to a trendy vegetarian place called Broadway East (I opted for the untrendy pizza) and wandered around afterward in quest of dessert. On an otherwise dark side street was a happy fluorescent sign reading “Rice to Riches” and a smaller one declaring that “rice pudding was getting a makeover.” It listed 20 flavors which ranged from the expected (vanilla) to the very-much-not (cookies and cream?!).

dc1.jpgI wondered aloud how a tiramisu-flavored rice pudding could possibly taste good and was stopped by a complete stranger: “It’s life-changing. You have to try it.” I never say no to life-changing dessert, so we went in and shared an order of the Hazelnut Chocolate Bear Hug, which was pretty remarkable.

The next morning we did a little more exploring downtown, including getting lattes at an amazing place called Jack’s Coffee, which is kind of the anti-Starbucks (one of its slogans is “thirty-six hours from cow to Jack’s,” which scared me a little until I realized they were talking about the milk), and walking around Battery Park, which is at the tail end of Manhattan. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Chinatown to catch our return bus, which miraculously left New York just half an hour behind schedule. Five hours later, our bus rolled into the D.C. alleyway we’d grown to know so well. And although the weekend had been lovely and New York an incredible place to visit, I was glad to be back.