Time to pack up, say goodbye to Laurie, Steve and Catherine, hugs all round, and we set off for the airport. We hadn’t taken the precaution of checking where the airport was, all the details were packed, so I set the SatNav for ‘Airport Centre Road’ in Nashville. Not a good plan, we started going round in circles, and the airport didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Being advised to perform a U turn on a motorway was a bit harrowing too (no, we didn’t!) I eventuallys witch SatNave apps, and the second one got us straight there, we handed the car pack and trundled all our stuff up to Departures. Fortunately as it turned out, we had had a phone call en route to tell us the flight was delayed by 35 minutes. The delay eventually stretched to 75 minutes, but we got boarded, and even managed to book an airport transfer from La Guardia Airport to the Wall Street Inn, so hopefuly we should be med by the Eastern Car Service on arrival.
The flight was in a really small jet, only taking about 50 passengers, considerably smaller than Elvis’s plane! We actually flew high this time above a bank of clouds, we had become used to short hops where you can still make out individual cars as you fly.
This was a small plane whose pilot didn’t seem bothered by turbulence, and liked sharp banking turns, so it was a good thing it was a short flight. It would have been shorter if we hadn’t been stacked, and then when we got on the ground had to wait 20 minutes for a free gate.
Emerging with a lot of heavy luggage and a large Bible from the terminal, we struggled to phone the pickup car. Eventually the company rang me. The driver spoke virtually no English, and what he had was in a strong accent. He couldn’t understand me either, and we spent some considerably time shouting at each other above the traffic. I had told him we had landed in Terminal B, and would be coming straight out of the baggage claim, but that was beyond him, and I finally worked out that he wanted to pick us up at Pick Up Point B, over the other side of the road.
We struggled across with all the luggage, but no sign of an Eastern Car Service vehicle. My phone rang again, it was within a whisker of dying from lack of battery, and we had another shouting match. Eventually something caught the side of my eye, and I saw a white car, in about the third lane over, (they were all jammed solid and hooting at each other) and saw someone frantically waving at me from it. We just plunged into the traffic, dragging luggage, and everything was held up further in the middle of the road whilst he loaded up his car.
Family friends will recall tales of ‘Dangerous Dave’ at Alan and Suma’s Indian wedding, the driver who was so reckless that those who could run fastest (never us!) always made for the other car. Well he obviously had a NY relative. The traffic was ludicrously busy, think of a jammed M25 with traffic at a crawl for miles on end. Now imagine the same traffic and road, but everyone is doing over 60 mph, nose to tail and weaving in and out, with horns going constantly. We do, however get a lovely view of a New York sunset.
He couldn’t find the hotel at first, we had a bit of a tour of Manhattan side streets, but suddenly the hotel appeared, we unloaded, and tumbled through the door. It was like entering an oasis of calm, after the mayhem. Beautiful old building, high ceilings, chintz finishings and chandeliers. Our room is on the 4th floor, which mutes the noise from the busy bar outside out window. We have a corner room, with six foot bed, lovely light windows, and elegantly pleated lampshades.
There is no point wasting time unpacking, it is already getting on for 9.00 pm, so out to find a restaurant. There is one, Crepes Du Nord, just outside the front door, and it too has a lovely calm atmosphere, with fairy lights and candles. And proper food! Rog has a smorgasbord, while I opt for a slice of salmon, cooked rare, on a bed of mange tout and peas. Followed by a sinful couple of pancakes, but you can’t always be good!
First essential, deal with the washing problem! We had had no access to a washing machine since Vancouver, and were running out of clean clothes. A quick search revealed that in NEw York there aren’t the laundrettes that we are used to, but everyone goes for a ‘wash and fold’ service, and $1 per pound of any clothese you care to give them. We made up a large bag and took it too the local one. It felt a bit strange to have a Chines gentleman go through your dirty clothes, rejecting anything that might shrink, but we paid our $10 and will pick up our stuff on Monday, to have it clean for the cruise.
Time for the World Trade Centre Memorial, which is within walking distance of the Hotel. The first thing you come across are the two footprints of the towers, now two large pits which have been turned into fountains, with a square black hole in the middle where the water disappears (and from a standing position, it looks bottomless)
Around the sides are the names of all those who died in that tower.
Between the two and to one side is the entrance to the museum, which actually takes you down to the very base of the foundations, ie ‘Ground Zero’. We went in and 11.30 and emerged at 3.15, there is so much to see. The memories of that day and all its horrors are brought back by newsreel footage, pictures, and recordings made by those who knew they were about to die, and those remembering them.
Among the poignant reminders are toys from children on the planes,a burnt out fire, police and an ambulance vehicle, girders inches thick which had been bent and twisted by the force of the towers coming down, and personal effects. There is a transcript from the flight recorders of the last moments in the planes, including the frantic hammering on the door of passengers trying to get into the cockpit of the Capitol bound plane when they realised their fate, and the hijackers telling each other to ‘put it down’, which they did, nose first.
Simple things can get to you, like the bloodstained shoes of the lady who walked down 77 floors in her high heels, and then 5 miles home, and only noticed the blood pouring from her blistered feet when she took them off.
It was really well done, and engendered a huge amount of respect, people walked round in silence, or gave startled gasps when they saw the photos of those jumping from the highest floors because they had no chance or rescue, or means of escape. For a large part of the exhibition, all photos were banned, and this seemed appropriate to the relatives of the dead and missing. 40% od the 2997 are still unaccounted for after nearly 14 years, though some DNA matching is still ongoing.
Somehow it didn’t seem right to eat in a place where so many had perished, so we avoided the cafe, but found a local one still serving chicken noodle soup and bread. We also shared a highly sinful pecan and maple syrup shortbread slice!
Back to the hotel to get ready for the Theatre, we had tickets for Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. To get there we had our first experience of the New York Subway. There is no air conditioning on the stations, so you are sweltering until a train comes in, when the efficient air con makes you cold. We found the theatre after passing the New York Police Station (well one of the many), with a sign above it wishing us a good evening….
If was a beautiful show, even Rog, not particularly a musicals fan, loved it. No photos allowed. The theatre was relatively small and we had good seats right at the front ot a middle section in the balcony, with view straight to the stage with no heads in the way. I got chatting to the lady next to me, who used to live opposite Graceland when she was growing up, but had never been in!
The interval was interesting, teh queue for the ‘restrooms; stretched across the back of the whole balcony, down all the stairs, and virtually out of the door. We were marshalled by shouting theatre officials to keep in line, and even inside the ladies, we were still shouted at as each cubicle became free!
After the show we went to the Marriott Hotel which has a cafe overlooking Times Square, and had a very late meal, burger for me and lamb kebabs for Roger. We then decided we had to walk through Times Square itself, which was very crowded, with some rather unusually dressed (and undressed!) people in it. Then back on the subway for bed. Now ten to two in the morning, am going to get some sleep!
Woke up still feeling tired, which has hardly unexpected, just about managed to get down to breakfast before closing time. Mind you, this hotel keeps the dining room open all the time, guests are free to wander in, help themselves to fresh coffee, iced water, fresh fruit and little pastries at any time of day or night. They can also watch Wimbledon in there too! Shame Federer lost…..
One of the reasons we were late down was that we were having a disorganised moment. We had planned a lot of our trip down to the last detail, but when it came to things like the Statue of Liberty, we had just assumed you get on a ferry and go….
Well it seems if you want to book to go up to the Crown, you have to book months in advance, there are no spaces before October! Even the Statue Ferry taking you over to the bottom of the pedestal on the Island is fully booked. What shall we do?
A bit of Googling around finds a recommendation to take the free Staten Island ferry, which gives a view of the Statue from the water, oh well if that is the only way we are going to get to see it…..
We can walk to the Staten Island Ferry from our hotel, it is amazing how well placed it is, stay in the Wall Street Inn folks if you are coming to New York sightseeing!
We approach the semicircular dock office of the ferry, and I suggested taking Roger’s photo in front of the sign. An official looking chap with lanyard and photo ID round his neck comes up and offers to take one of both of us. We agree and he does.
Then he asks if we are going on the ferry. We confess we are because we haven;t been able to get tickets to the Island, and he suggests a harbour boat trip with a 15 minute stop in front of the Statue. For $25 each, this seemed a good idea. He gave us the tickets – ‘just 500 yards along the dock’ he says. In the heat, and seeing the boat we are supposed to be on approaching the dock far more rapidly than we can, we arive out of breath to a long queue just to check in. By the time we reach the head of the queue we are on a different boat, not as elegant, but it will do. The usual photo is taken.
We get seats on deck, and off she goes, with a good commentary. For example I did not know that New York had its own Dunkirk moment after 9/11, when all transport and bridges off Manhattan were shut down, and people trying to escape the smoke and debris rushed to the shoreline. Every boat in the area made haste to ferry them off the Island to safety, half a million people were taken off that day.
We also had a good glimpse of the Freedom Tower, which replaced the World Trade Centre towers, and has only just been finished, with a One World Observatory on the top.
We were able to take photos of Ellis Island, where all immigrants with no immediate address to go to were processed, and holds the immigration records of the ancestors of 40% of the US population.
Then the Stature of Liberty grew bigger, and the boat did a slow 360 degree turn right in front of it, so that everyone could get a good photo.
The cruise continued under the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, turned round, and took us back to the landing stage. When we disembarked, our photo was waved at us. We usually ignore these, but it didn’t look too bad, so we asked how much, prepared to walk away.
However the price was $20, which included a DVD of the cruise, and a free ticket to tour the old galleon moored alongside. It didn’t seem too bad a deal, so we paid, and got our free ticket. We thought it wasn’t worth paying for a second galleon ticket, and were going to walk away, when Rog got waved on too. It was a complete replica of an old Spanish galleon in the days when Spain thought it would sail to New York and conquer America. IT has sailed round the world, and was in New York for the Tall Ships display, this was the last day we could have seen it.
Time for lunch, and there was a cafe on the waterfront by the rather unattractive name of the Industry Kitchen. However it did a splendid Greek salad, if a little short on the feta (Rog) and cucumber (me) so some swapping went on.
Our camera batteries were already running out, so back to the hotel to charge them. On the way we glanced in the window of the Maison Du Chocolat and were done for! We went in and were offered free tastings of vanilla and raspberry macarons. All resistance failed, and we bought some to take back to the Hotel.
Our next plan was to see Central Park, the second largest park in the USA, the biggest being the Golden Gate Bridge Park in San Francisco. We dithered over the best way to do this, horse and carriage – lovely but very expensive. Pedicab? You get to see more, but watch out for rip offs. Walking was obviously out, it is huge. We decided to go and see what was available, rather than attempting to book anything on line.
We arrived by train, outside what we later found out was John Lennon’s old house – well his appartment with Yoko Ono was on the third floor. He was shot in the back by a lunatic in one of the entrances. The whole building was covered in scaffolding for renovation, not worth taking a photo.
First thought was a restroom, if we are going on a long trip, so we asked one of the pedicab drivers at the entrance where the nearest one was. Not a wise idea really, he immediately offered to drive us, but having found out where it was, we fended him off.
We came across the Tavern on the Green, a very exclusive looking restaurant, so popped in to make use of the facilities. We were almost tempted to stay, cool marble everywhere, ceiling fans, pretty outside spaces…
However we came out, and there were a few pedicabs and a horse and carriage outside. The Pedicabs have placards attached, with their prices per minute. Most seemed to be $3, but we noticed one at $4, and queried to ourselves why so much? The owner heard, and started a lengthy explanation of how he would provide places others did not go to, and showed us pictures. Others he said did not have good English or knowledge. He brought the price down eventually to $100 for half an hour. Too much we said, and walked away.
Another one offered us only marginally cheaper, and we were standing there wondering what to do when a third came up with $2 a minute on his. However when we spoke to him, he offered us $65 for an hour. That seemed more like it, so we got in. At once we were shouted at by another one saying ‘You were offered a good price, why did you not go with the first one?’ We said ‘because he is cheaper’, whereupon a group of them surrounded us and demanded of our driver ‘How much are you charging?’ When he said $65 for an hour, they were incredulous, and growled at us ‘You get what you pay for’!
With their shouts ringing in our ears, we set off with ‘Johnny Cash’ who turned out to be Karim from Russia!
He turned out to be a good choice, his English was excellent, he took a real pride in telling us about the famous bits of the park, filming that had been done there, stopped whenever we wanted, insisted on taking photos of us together with our cameras at several spots, and could answer any questions. He had a quirky sense of hunour, telling us the rocks had been made in China and imported, then seeing our faces quickly grinned and said ‘I’m joking’!
We saw some famous apartments, apart from John Lennon’s, for example Luciano Pavarotti’s sixth floor with huge balcony.
We also passed the fountain which features at the beginning of ‘Friends’, where they tip themselves backwards into it.
The ride ended with Strawberry Fields, which was not a John Lennon invention, but an area of the park. Yoko Ono has paid to maintain this bit, and there is a memorial plaque in the ground to John Lennon.
Next excitement was the Empire State Building. We arrived a bit early, so went into the Heartland Brewery Restaurant for a meal, spinning it out with a coffee to fill in time. The best time to go up is just before sunset, when the sun setting is reflected in the water, and the lights start to come on. There was an exit from the restaurant straight into the ESB lobby. Up to the second floor (First floor if you are British!) to collect our tickets. We then joined a weaving queue, which moved quickly, but seemed to go on for ever, round and round the building! The inevitable photos were taken, more weaving round a fast moving queue, and at last we got to the lift, which whizzed us up to the 80th floor. There we had to join another queue for the 86th floor lift to the Observatory.
Stepping outside, it was just as in Sleepless in Seattle, with the ramps and outside walking area so you could see the whole of New York from different angles. A massive photo opportunity, but after a few shots and a bit of video, my camera battery ran out. However Rog was able to continue as the sun went down and we watched the lights of New York emerge. We were able to pick out the Freedom Tower easily, and the Statue of Liberty eventually, a tiny greenish dot on the horizon.
Once it was really dark, it was back to the hotel, where the free coffee and cakes in the lounge were too good to miss.
Getting ready for bed, I was a bit shocked to see that my legs were covered in very large , bright red blotches, and my left foot especially was exceedingly swollen and achy. I put hydrocortisone cream on, but I am not exactly going to look glamorous in cocktail dresses on the ship now!
Our last full day in New York! What do people come to New York for? If you are female, you go shopping!
We set off for Blookingdales, a large department store, with bits of it undergoing refurbishment. I managed to find the NYDJ bit, (Not Your Daughter’s Jeans) which fit the ‘older woman’ really well, and found some petite black jeans for less than they would have cost in the UK, so really pleased with those. Rog was also looking for jeans, but shopping in large stores isn’t really his favourite activity, and he headed out into the sunshine.
From there it was a trip to Macy’s claiming to be the world’ biggest store, and taking up a whole block of New York.