Homeward Bound

For our last full day we scooted out sharp to secure some internet time (just so we could update our 15 blog followers) before doing anything else. This was necessary because the hotel we are staying in occupies the only plot in New York that you cannot tap into a free hotspot and, as such, they have used the scarcity to charge six dollars per half hour for a connection.

They will feel the pain for this action in my trip advisor review. Access to the internet is like running water these days. What on earth are they thinking?

After that we took the subway to Prospect Park in Brooklyn to the Smorgasburg market which advertises over 100 stalls selling food (and fleas it says?). I didn’t get any fleas but I did get some great food. Three lots in fact.

SAM_2634

Smorgasburg

The first round was basically a bag of chips with thousand island dressing, but they made it sound better. There was quite a lot of crispy bits hidden under the big fries on top, but they were tasty. Eight dollars though, that’s just ridiculous for a bag of chips.

SAM_2636

Looks good – but does it look $8 worth of good?

Round two was a waffle cone ice cream. This was a fresh, soft waffle folder into a cone with a ball of ice cream and sprinkle stuff. We asked for caramel sauce but they missed it out for some reason. It was also delicious – but ten dollars? Ouch!

SAM_2638

A lot of empty space under that blob of ice cream – LONG LIVE JAMES ICE CREAM IN NAIRN!!

Finally we had a cheesecake doughnut. Four dollars wasn’t too bad. It filled a hole – get it?

SAM_2639

Prospect Park is almost as big as Central Park and is a very pleasant spot to walk about in. It was new to me too so I was happy to have spent some time here.

We then took a bus to its destination – which was nowhere near ours. We didn’t realize that of course. We were dropped at the Barclays Center where the Brooklyn Nets play their basketball and where I knew that I had once met someone who walked there via the Brooklyn Bridge.

If they walked there we could surely walk back that way.

Well if it wasn’t the longest journey since the trip to Boston. We walked forever.

It was thoroughly enjoyable though.  The walkway down the centre of the bridge is divided in half – one side for the several thousand walkers who walk it every hour, and one half for the twenty or so cyclists who use it.

So inevitably the thousands of walkers encroach upon the cycle route a tad. Well you should hear the language!

Anyway despite the bike dodging and the challenges of working your way through a crowd coming in the opposite direction also dodging bikes, and stopping to take pictures, it was good fun and something I had never done before too.

SAM_2672

Can’t stand photo-bombers!

We then walked over to the 911 memorial.

It’s pretty impressive, a matching pair of New York block-sized fountains with the names of everyone who died cut into the huge brass plates surrounding it. They place a flower in the name of anyone who should be celebrating a birthday that date so it is quite sad to find one there. It’s sad enough anyway but that brings it home even more.

SAM_2696

After that we were pretty worn out so we decided to take the Staten Island Ferry to view the Statue of Liberty for free. They’ve got a bit devious since I last did this trip. It used to be possible to take the ferry and then run round to grab the next one coming back. Now they close the doors of the departing ferry just a fraction before releasing the incoming passengers so they have to spend an hour waiting for the next one.

I guess I can see why.

SAM_2722

That boat damn nearly got in the way of our picture

We ate at Bareburger on a recommendation and it was very nice indeed. It was forty five dollars though for our two selves with drinks.

Still good by our UK standards, but we’ve had more for less.

Finally we took the train to Penn Station and walked to Starbucks to check in to our flight home.

Next morning we just had a few final things to tick off before making our way to JFK for the flight home. Firstly, we headed to the Chrysler Building to look at the inside of the lobby which we have never done. I wasn’t sure if you were allowed to.

IMG_2165[1]

‘That’s the door, Sir, when you are ready’

Did you know that the term ‘lobbying’ (when referring to a politician) probably comes from a habit of trying to catch US Presidents inside the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington DC? Because they stay there before their inauguration.

You do now.

Secondly we wanted to visit the New York Library because for all the time I spent in the city, I never once borrowed a book or even stepped inside this place.

It was closed. Something on that involves making a globe out of flowers.

IMG_2177[1]

Sadly we shall never see the planet all covered in flowers, nor inside the library

Never mind the Morgan Library has an original Shakespeare folio and a signed copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost – we’ll pop round there.

It was closed. Monday holiday.

So we had lunch in a place called Penera which was absolutely wonderful. The orange scone was amazing and I am going to set it as a Bake-off challenge as soon as I get home. We also had a Pecan twist and a Pecan Roll to take away. A nice cup of British tea too.

IMG_2174[1]

I wonder if the American reluctance to stock good old British tea (from India) is due to the chaos at Boston? Is it a sore point still?

Anyway we finally packed our bags and navigated the subway system to JFK so that I could sit and complete this final blog entry so that all of my 15 readers can finally get on with their lives.

As I reflect on our holiday I feel very happy and reinvigorated by the journey we have undertaken. I also look back on the blog and read some moans and groans though, and I wonder if I have accurately recorded how good it has been. It has been amazing. I just moan for the fun of it. I don’t like to pay for rubbish but I am not mean, I paid a fortune for this holiday so how can I be?

I also don’t like to see people give less than they ought. I give everything to enjoying my holiday so I expect that from those employed in the holiday business.

We have come from the South to the very North, deliberately to better understand America, its music and its history. I feel better informed and enriched by the experience. Is that not what a holiday is all about?

We didn’t relax – I can do that at home.

Until next year – a poor persons drive in a camper van I suspect – thanks for reading this twaddle.

IMG_2037[1]

Elvis has left the building…

Advertisements

New York and Boston

Its been five years since I left New York so I was curious to see how it might have changed and if, in any way, my relationship with it had been affected by the absence.

It was immediately clear that I felt right away that New York is truly ‘where it’s at’.  I’ve seen a lot of great American cities in my effort to populate this blog, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and many in between.

None of them come close.

What has changed is the number of people sleeping on the streets, the bums begging at every corner and the strong smell of marijuana at regular intervals – day or night (Mayor De Blasio has decriminalised it). When I was here in 2013 the previous mayor had long held a view that Manhattan should be kept clear of anyone who might be involved in crime, and anyone who slept rough or appeared in any way to be even slightly dodgy would be stopped, searched and driven to the New Jersey border to go and live there.

But it still feels very safe I have to say. There are loads of cops all over the place and none of the beggars or homeless try to get in your face too much. There’s a change, but it doesn’t change New York. It can take it.

More to the point though, what happened to proper English usage in the last five years?

It seems that here, more than anywhere, the use of adjectives, verbs and adverbs have been replaced by the word ‘like’ and a snippet of associated role play. You will have witnessed this in our own young people in the UK too (the ones that watch too many American shows at least), it’s not confined to New York, it’s just much worse here.

So a group of young girls pass in the street and the conversation relates to a recent experience with a good looking boy. Instead of saying, ‘I looked at him and thought he was very handsome’ we hear ‘I was like “whoa” and I’m like [action: opens eyes and mouth wide], “omigod” and I just thought “all right boy – lookin’ fine!” [action: uses hand to wave cool air on face] “mmm….mmmm”’

The use of ‘I’m like’ followed by a replay of the actions undertaken at the time has become the new language of the younger generation. It’s as if they don’t know any other way to describe something.

An overheard conversation relates to a recent shopping experience. Can you translate?

‘I was like “omigod” but the guy says “sixty dollas”- I’m like “no way”  – he’s like “for you fifty” so I’m like “get them in a bag then” and he’s like “yeah I will” – check them out [action: points to shoes]

Amongst the noise of chatter in the street the most commonly heard word is ‘like’.

For our first day in New York we decided to go to Roosevelt Island, something I have never done before. There’s a cable car that takes you from Madison Avenue and 60th over to the island which is home to a visitor centre, a mental health facility, apartment blocks and a couple of parks. The main attraction is the cable car and you’ve done that by the time you get there.

We walked for a bit trying to get a feel for the place but it turns out it is just a different place to look at Manhattan from and wish you’d stayed there. We did, in fact, have lunch there and it was perfectly acceptable.

I’m glad we went over though, just to know not to do it again.

SAM_2370

Cable car to Roosevelt Island – the highlight. Just go and and come back.

We then walked down to Macy’s on 34th and did some exploring amongst its vast halls of expensive goods listening to lots of ‘likes’ amongst the other shoppers and trying to locate the toilets. Truthfully the toilet was our main purpose in being there.

As we walked away we stepped out on to the road and were promptly honked at by someone turning into our path when we were perfectly within our rights to cross.  I was like ‘duh!’ and I threw my hands in the air.

Dinner was an Italian affair at Forlinis in Little Italy – pricey by our standards but very nice and very traditional New York Italian with bags of Sicilian atmosphere. No pictures because we were frightened we might be mistakenly photo-bombed by a Mafia don and be whacked on the way out.

For our second day in New York we went to Boston.

Boston is three hours away from New York and it takes three and a half hours to get there on a tour bus. We didn’t realise that it takes five and a half hours to get back at the end of the day on a tour bus. If we had we might have chosen to do something more productive with this day.

We rose excitedly at 5 am in order to shower and walk uptown to our meeting point. There we boarded the bus to Boston with our tour guide Chris whose actual name was Yaou Chang but he translated it for us so we would understand him more clearly. That was as much as we could understand of his broken English.

We then took our seats behind the ‘Recliner family’.

I don’t actually understand why planes and buses have reclining seats. There’s little enough space to squeeze your legs in without having the guy in front kicking back and lying in your lap. Honestly the recliner in this bus went so far back I could have rested my coffee on his forehead and hung my headphones over his lug. And he didn’t even give me fair warning. One second I’m looking down at my growing belly (holiday food), the next there’s a blob of a bloke looking up at me. Well be would have been looking up if he wasn’t slurping and grunting his way through his sleep ritual.

We were on the bus two minutes and he was off to sleep – in my lap.

I glanced behind but the poor woman who would have had to suffer my ginger bonce in her bosom looked too sweet to cause such distress to.

I would ban recliners in all public transport. I don’t care if you are a recliner or not – it’s just not right.

Anyway, apart from the dreadful journey there and back, the trip to Boston was – well actually it was dreadful.

Our first stop was that internationally renowned seat of learning, Harvard. Well they don’t use adjective, adverbs or verbs there either. These doctors, lawyers and business leaders of the future were ‘like “omigod – this is Harvard you know”.  Not only that, our tour guide, ‘Chris’, had not checked ahead – and when we got to Harvard it was closed.

SAM_2393

Translation for the under 30 – ‘like “omigod – go away why don’t you”‘

Closed to vote in a new president – I was like ‘you’re joking aren’t you?’

So we walked around the yard that we were meant to be inside and pressed our noses against the railings of the fence wondering what it must be like to go to Harvard and be a future president or something. Truthfully we hadn’t known it was part of the tour so we didn’t get too fussed.

SAM_2411

The highlight of our visit to Harvard

Now ‘Chris’ was full of facts (translate from Cantonese = completely made up rubbish). Harvard is the best university in the world he tells us. MIT is the best technology school in the world. The library at Harvard is the biggest in the world, Boston is the biggest marathon in the world. Reclining seats are the best thing since sliced bread.

Rubbish Chris! Just because Wikipedia says something that doesn’t make it true.

So we then went into Boston to follow the Freedom Trail and to learn about American History from Chris.  We were then rushed through the key locations in the story but given ample time at gift shops and eateries all of which were run by Chris’s family I think. At one point we had to go rogue just to grab some pictures in the city centre while Chris told the tour group about the oldest church in the world right in the middle of Boston.

SAM_2465

Boston is actually quite beautiful

SAM_2466

And the local traders in the Square where we went rogue are fantastic

SAM_2521

The food at the official stops was less appetising and – of course – Chinese

SAM_2523

but we managed to sneak away again and get some amazing cheesecake

And then on the five and a half hour journey home (the longest journey in the world) my wife and I had Mr and Mrs Recliner to nurse in our laps all the way.

What I can say is that Boston is a truly lovely place and we will be back (without Chris) to do it some justice. One day.

Next morning we got up much later and took the subway to 125th street, crossed the platform and took another subway back to 81st street where we had originally planned to be. We then got our and I ran round Central Park one more time. It was exhausting – I am not in shape at all.

SAM_2546.JPG

and that’s before I started running!

I then took my rucksack and tried to change in the Bethesda Park toilets without touching the sides of the cubicle, the floor or the bowl with any part of my body. That was much more exhausting.

We then decided on a lunch at the Boathouse. That was very nice. I had soup and Cobb Salad while my good lady had a burger.

SAM_2555

To relax we hired a row boat to have a romantic meander around the little pond in the park.  It was more exhausting that the last two experiences.

The place was so busy we took most of our hour trying to get out of the chaos of first time rowers (myself included). We nearly sank twice.

Then we realised that, instead of the modern plastic oars attached to all the other boats, we had two lumps of wood that someone had hacked off a tree and carved into baseball bats with a penknife. Worse still the linkages hadn’t been greased this century so they squealed with every heave and squawked with every ho. It was painful.

We timed our trip out knowing that we needn’t to head back after half an hour to avoid the extra charge for exceeding the hour. That wouldn’t happen to me.

But we hadn’t realised that coming back into the flotilla of hapless sailors at the start required the navigational skills of Admiral Nelson to overcome. We were inside ten minutes of our return time and it looked like we would fail with less than fifty nautical yards to row. I spotted a guy to my right who was also clearly under the clock, and he was heading for the same narrow strait I myself had pointed my bow to’ard. He came amidships and rammed me, the blaggard, and I had to haul astern to avoid us both ending up feeding the fishes.

He caught my eye and I held his a moment. He flinched and smiled. ‘You have that one,’ be politely said. I was like ‘duh!’ and I steered a course for port within moments of the clock running out.

Truthfully we were ten minutes early such was our panic.

However, the stress was so significant I was glad to hand it in and return to land.

SAM_2569

False smiles suggesting we are enjoying ourselves

SAM_2560

The log I was expected to paddle with

We made our way next to 72nd and Broadway and walked down to our hotel on 31st street where I showered before we hit the trail again.

We walked to the Highline on 11th Avenue where we intended to walk on this former elevated railway line down to Greenwich Village for dinner.

It was closed.

I was like [action: wtf]

So we walked to the side of the Hudson to make our way down and crossed into Greenwich where we wandered amongst the streets watching the locals walking their dogs and pretending they live like normal people and don’t just stay there so tourists can gawp at them. We popped our heads in a few doors looking for the right place to eat but were put off my ‘omigod!’ being shouted from every corner and the ‘omigod’ prices being charged for salads.

We finally landed on Bleeker Street pizza which sits discretely between 7th Avenue and Bleeker Street (surprisingly). The 14 inch pizza with three toppings and two drinks came in under thirty dollars and it was magnificent.

SAM_2600

My wife from six feet away

It was just the thing to energise us for the twenty five blocks home.

This morning we had to come out to Starbucks just to do this blog. We Skyped my sister who celebrated a birthday ‘like “really don’t mention that”‘ Here she is

WIN_20181007_15_27_06_Pro

HAPPY 50th TRISH!!

Washington DC Comics

The flight to Washington was short and sweet. The only hitch was having to pay to put a bag in the hold because it was an internal flight (not sure what my holiday company thought I would do with it but that will be sorted I am sure) and there was a bit of a to do as to whether or not my guitar was hand baggage or not. It was as it turned out, but it still went in the hold at airside and the case ended up at the other end slightly dented.

I was fine with this – the guitar was in good shape still, the case needs a bit of bashing to make it look more ‘Nashville’. It now sports a ‘DC’ sticker to say it toured here. I forgot to get a Nashville one but eBay will no doubt come to my rescue.

SAM_1764

Woody – ‘The dent was THIS BIG’

We took the metro to within five blocks of our hotel which (thank goodness) was perfectly situated for all that Washington has to offer.

On arrival the reception guy immediately struck up a conversation about my guitar and I proudly told him the story of its purchase in Nashville and so on and so on.

Then the bugger raises his eyebrows and says, ‘it must be expensive is it?’

We unloaded our luggage and found the best spot to hide my ‘not expensive’ guitar so that the nefarious cad behind the desk couldn’t easily describe its location to his mates in the hotel robbing trade.

Under the bed as it happens.

My determined spouse then dragged me out, reassuring me everything would be alright, to the Washington memorial and down to the Washington Monument just to get a feel for the place.

Flipping hot as it happens.

We checked if Mr Trump was in but they appear to have layered up another level of security to prevent anyone getting anywhere close to the boundary of the Whitehouse. Pictures from afar until he is impeached and thrown out I am guessing.

SAM_1794

We were pretty hungry by now. The Nashville airport breakfast of egg and sausage bagel was long digested and we had missed lunch due to fears of a raid on our hotel room and the additional time needed to shore up security.

Some research by my good lady had suggested a restaurant serving a Chicago style pizza, and that was where we determined to go.

At this juncture I should wax on inanely about the history of Washington in order to spice up the interest level in this blog, as is my usual practice. So we will come back to the food if you will bear with me.

Washington is the only city in the US that is not inside any of the states. It stands alone as the District of Columbia. This was a deliberate act on the part of the founding fathers of the US since it houses the federal government and is separate from the states themselves. At the time of its early construction they decided on a couple of essential qualities that would set the tone for the new country, reflecting on it aims to be a pure democracy. Firstly they hired a French architect, Pierre l’Enfant, to stick it up to the British – and he laid out the grid pattern around the Capitol we see today. Secondly they wanted everything to reflect the symbols of democracy that history gives us from Greek and Roman architecture.

So there are bags of ornate columns and Greek inscriptions all over the place, grand domes and Classical fountains, sculptures etc. This is a city that tells the British Monarchy, ‘stick your Royal prerogative up your aristocracy!’

Anyway – my learned wife knows a lot about lots of things. What I have never realised though is how much she knows about this ancient aspect to Greece. So imagine my surprise when she spots the restaurant from afar by virtue of seeing the symbol for pi written over the restaurant.

‘That’s the symbol for pi she says.’

‘3.1415926?’ I say.

‘No, you idiot. Pizza pie!’

SAM_1774

About 0.15342 of a π

Anyway we enjoyed a kind-of Chicago style pizza pie in π and it was very cheap for the two of us so we finished the day pretty satisfied and myself better educated.

We deliberated long and hard next morning over the priorities of our Washington trip. We wanted to do a lot but we really needed to get off our feet for some of the time. New Orleans and Nashville had been hard work and we are supposed to relax on holiday aren’t we?

We plumped for a Big Bus tour. Two full days of someone driving us around the sights, dropping us off and on at our leisure to meander round the historic monuments and take in some scenery. As a bonus for our two day booking we could join the night tour for free and get into Madame Tussauds as well.

Walking is for mugs, we sneered as we boarded the first bus.

SAM_1996

Oh how we laughed at the thought of people who walk everywhere on holiday!

We headed North towards Mount Pleasant where one of the first major stop offs was the Zoo. Well if we didn’t pay to get into the zoo in New Orleans we weren’t going to pay to get into this one.

Ah! But the Zoo in Washington is free; it’s part of the Smithsonian Institute.

Free? My ears pricked up.

It’s not only free, it’s fantastic.

So we ended up walking heaven knows how many miles around that zoo.

SAM_1842

Panda at the zoo…

SAM_1870

… elephants at the zoo …

SAM_1877

… gorilla at the zoo …

SAM_1926

… lion at the zoo ….

SAM_1899

… monkeys at the zoo.

Our lunch was at the zoo. It was fine for zoo food.

SAM_1972

We actually had pizza slice and ice cream but this is funnier.

With weary legs we re-boarded the big bus and took a relaxing twenty minute break before we reached the next stop, Georgetown, where we decided a few more miles on our feet might just wear the blisters down to bone.

I had hoped we might find a boat hire to take a relaxing paddle down the river, but the Potomac was flooded recently and all hires are suspended until the deadly currents subside. So inconvenient, we had to walk two miles to find it and two back when we saw the closed sign.

When we got back to our hotel I got changed and went for a four mile run from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and back. I’m not sure why now that I read back how this day went. I felt that I wanted to do it.

Arlington Cemetery is a military burial site close to Washington DC. It’s also the site of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the site of interment for JFK who has a rather inspiring eternal flame over his grave. Using the big bus we made our way to the start of our four mile walk around the cemetery.

There is nothing amusing or even interesting to say about Arlington. You possibly need to come from a military background to really appreciate it. It’s not a site like ones on the Somme in France, although it appears to emulate the symbolic nature of white markers all in perfect rows. The graves are not anonymous though, these are the graves of servicemen and women who have died, not just in conflict, but at any time.

The most poignant tribute is the one paid to the Unknown Soldier all day and every day. A military guard marches in front of the tomb that houses unidentified remains. We witnessed the changing of the guard, a highly disciplined ritual that seemed all the more commendable in the heat of the afternoon sun.

After Arlington we went into the American History Museum and thought we would have lunch there. Unfortunately, while the admission to this museum is subsidised, the food in the restaurant is clearly part of the means of doing so. Fifteen dollars for a sandwich?

We dipped out to little food court where a sandwich shop called Timgad was selling some decent pieces for under ten dollars. In fact we managed some lemonade and a gigantic Blueberry muffin too.

SAM_2073

I do enjoy American History even though it is pretty anti-British stuff. Maybe I’m a sympathiser?

If you don’t know your American History here it is in a nutshell.

Ancient times – people arrive from the Garden of Eden somewhere in Africa via the Bering Straits and become the first people – Native Americans.

About a thousand years ago – Leif Erikson from Iceland finds America but it’s too warm so he heads back home to become a Viking and raids Scotland instead.

13th century – Spaniard Christopher Columbus crashes into the West Indies on the way to China and he comes home to tell the Queen.

13th century to around 16th – Spanish explorers follow Columbus’s navigational guidance and end up in various other places in the South of the US. Realising the continent is there British sailors grab a slice landing in New England, the French take Canada and the North while Spain continues spreading into Mexico and up into the West of the US. There’s a lot of problems getting work done so the Pope says God wants the people of Africa to be enslaved to help in God’s work over there. Everyone believes him and the fact that they will make shed loads of money is just a bonus.

17th to 19th centuries – Colonists have built the US mostly around the handful of states in the North East where farming is easy. When it comes to the South where it is harder they really start to give the slaves a hard time. Sadly they also teach them to read and suddenly it becomes apparent that they are human beings after all.

The colony starts to build confidence and decides it wants to go it alone. Taxes from Britain start to rise and a revolution starts. They sign a Declaration of Independence and fax off a copy to the King.  He wages war. The British Navy is the only thing that prolongs the war so the colonists go to the French with some cash and borrow their Navy. The French are happy to see someone give the Brits a doing and say ‘remplis tes bottes’.

Once the USA is born they write a Constitution and stuff and laugh all the way to a field where they build Washington DC.

But all is not well. The slaves want out. They’d also like a piece of the action. The North agrees but the South say no. Civil War begins.

Abe Lincoln wins freedom for slaves and he is promptly assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while watching a play in Washington.

19th to present – jazz, Hollywood, prohibition, financial crash part I, two wars, JFK assassinated, Vietnam, end of segregation, financial crash part II, first black president, Trump, end of world as we know it.

Oops the last bit is the future.

We had dinner in Chinatown – a place called Chinese Garden. It was nice.

We then did a night tour of the city which was very pleasant. Mainly because we stayed on the bus most of the time and didn’t walk our little socks off. The city looks different at night – it’s dark for a start.

SAM_2141

SAM_2144

Our last day here we got up and messed around at Madame Tussauds to make use of our free pass. After that we lunched at Au Bon Pain, a lovely place with great sandwiches and a nice outside space to eat in.

SAM_2165

‘This play is crap Abe, can’t you see that? I’m going to find something more interesting to do’

 

SAM_2201

‘Yeah baby! Now we’re talking RESPECT’

SAM_2196

‘Sorry Jennifer, love. Better find the wife. Where is she?’

SAM_2199

‘Over here darling!’

We did actually tour the Ford Theatre where Abraham Lincoln was shot and the presentation of it was very well done. It was just across from Tussauds so not too far to walk this time.

The walking started over though as we toured the Capitol (yay) and Library of Congress (meh), then we pushed on to the Space and Flight Museum which is (you might have guessed) free.

SAM_2231

Inside the dome of the Capitol.

The Capitol is an excellent visit and it was a great way to finish up. Tomorrow we head on the train to New York for our last wee bit of the holiday. But before we go …

As we were missing our happy Golden Retriever Harry, who we learned today has suffered a bee sting to the nose (all together), we dined at Harry’s Diner on E Street. We stayed at the nearby Harrington Hotel the first time we came to Washington so it felt fitting that we honour our puppy this way in his time of suffering.

SAM_2333

Harry’s burger. We wish you well soon.

SAM_2331

A little cocktail of Water on the Rocks.

SAM_2326

Daddy hurt himself too!