|The Big Five-O
We're Leaving Today
Start spreading the news, we're leaving today!
Well, we finally decided to put on our vagabond shoes and visit the most iconic of American cities; the Big Apple, the city of dreams, the one that never sleeps, where they say "hey babe, take a walk on the wild side", the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, so good they named it twice, where better to celebrate Julie's 50th birthday than in New York, New York!
We woke up this morning at 5am which is not unusual when staying in an airport hotel, however today there wasn't any need for us to be up with the lark, there wasn't even a need for us to be in an airport hotel. We were flying from Manchester, the nearest international airport to home, and our flight wasn't scheduled to depart until 2pm.
Our body clocks had been adjusted for early starts over the last few days because we had been catering (as The Veggieman) at two events over the weekend. With New York five hours behind we realised that we had woken up at midnight, New York time. Today was going to be a very long day!
The news that greeted us this morning was that Manchester airport had descended into chaos after a power outage, effectively grounding planes and leaving thousands of people stranded. Thankfully it was yesterday's news.
The good news was that it had been resolved and all was apparently back to normal today. We counted our blessings. That would stress me out so much if it happened to us. What a nightmare.
Five hours later, having already walked to Terminal 1 & 3 in search of coffee and pastries we caught a shuttle bus to Terminal 2. It was a relief to see that any knock-on effect of yesterday's problems had not spilled over to today.
The whole check-in, security check process went smoothly and within minutes we were in Duty Free browsing the champagne, checking out their vegetarian suitability using an app on the phone. Bollinger and Louis Roderer were out but Dom Perignon was in! We toyed with the idea of blowing our champagne budget on the Dom but in the end we went for quantity over quality and bought two bottles of good old Moet et Chandon.
After lunch at Frankie & Benny's we popped back to duty free where Julie bought a posh pencil case, for her posh pen, to go inside her posh bag, just in case the ink leaked.
Time past quickly and before we knew it the boarding gate was revealed. Julie did a little celebrationary dance when it was the nearest gate. Still petrified of flying the diazepam, wine and exhaustion were combining to give her a lovely fuzzy calmness.
We waited our turn to board Tinker Belle. (which was the name given to this Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747) Those who "turned left" were the first. Despite our best attempts ("It's my birthday dontcha know") we weren't getting a free upgrade today. In fact the lady at the check-in desk was quite rude and dismissive of us.
Our seats, hand-picked by ourselves were right at the back, row 62, where the tail narrows and they only have two seats next to eachother, instead of the standard three. These were our favourite seats on a long-haul flight. It's not that we're anti-social but it's nice to be just the two of us.
Tinker Belle took off on time, 13:50. Ahead of us was a seven hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
Food soon arrived, in fact having a "special dietary requirement" of being vegetarian they brought my meal out first. I felt rather special. Unfortunately it didn't last. The meal was a peculiar combination of small, very dry falafels, a butter bean stew with tarragon, (not my favourite herb) and crushed potato with black olive. Three totally random non-meat dishes, none tasting especially great.
When the normal menu for normal people was being served Julie chose the meat-free option! A delicious sounding orrechiette con pesto. I canonly assume it had parmesan in the pesto. Anyway, as often happens, I ended up eating Julie's meal anyway, and it was delicious.
It was all washed down with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne. A great start to the flight.
We both flicked through the entertainment console but neither of us could be bothered to watch anything so we tried to get a nap to conserve our energy. It had already been a very long day but it was only 11am in New York.
Several hours later and we had crossed the pond, reaching North American landmass and soon flying over Bangor, Maine; one of six Bangor's in the world! (One day we should make a trip to visit them all.)
Whilst seeing our home town's name on the map was mildly amusing, we found the fact there was a town called Asbestos really funny!
Upon reflection it's not at all funny. Asbestos, Quebec is a town where you would have found the world's largest asbestos mine. Asbestos, the mineral used extensively in construction industry and subsequently been responsile for millions of deaths through lung cancer. No laughing matter.
A litte while later we began our descent from 36,000 feet. I don't know what I was expecing but our first glimpse of land was a surprisingly green carpet of forest.
The approach was not without a wobble or two which sent Julie's blood pressure rocketing but to her relief the landing was smooth.
Next came the infamous queue through immigration. The sign estimated an hour for those visiting for the first time on their current ETSA ( Electronice System for Travel Authorisation visa) Those who had been before only had a fifteen minute wait!
It wasn't so bad. "We've queued longer for a ride in Disneyland" Julie reminded me. Which was true.
With passports stamped we moved on, reuniting ourselves with our luggage which thankfully had also arrived, and walked into the arrivals lounge following the sign for "ground transport" looking for the taxi rank.
After a short wait we were sat in Manmohan Singh's yellow cab on our way to New York. Manmohan was a gently spoken Sikh complete with a tidy turbanand a neat beard. He must have aged quite dramatically as he looked twenty years older than his current taxi license photo.
He didn't speak much but that was fine with us. We were too tired for conversation. It was a beautiful sunny day and very warm. (about 30C) We wound the windows down, put on our shades and relaxed for our hour long ride to our hotel.
The closer we got the more excited I became. The first landmark of note was a huge suspension bridge known as the Verazzano Narrows bridge. Once we drove underneath it the Manhattan skyline gradually appeared in the distance.
Driving through Brooklyn we caught a sneak preview of the Statue of Liberty in scene reminiscent of the opening credits to The Sopranos.
"Oh look, there's the statue of celebrity" I said recalling how our grandson Harley (age 6) had misheard its name.
We then disappeared into the Hugh L. Carey tunnel.
If we thought it was warm outside it was absolutely stifling in here. To make matters worse traffic was crawling through. The airless car fumed conditions was unbearable.
The sweat was dripping off us and on the verge of heat exhaustion when we emerged into the fresher air of Manhattan, right on West Street with the massive One World Trade Centre directly in front of us. We stuck our heads out of the window, craneing our necks to see the top!
A block after passing the tallest builidng in New York we turned left, towards the Hudson river where another left turn brought us to our hotel, the Conrad. We paid Manmohan the standard fee of $56 plus toll charges for a journey from the airport to anywhere to Manhattan plus a little extra for his trouble.
At only 18 floors tall our hotel was dwarfed by all the skyscapers that surrounded it. It's main selling point wasn't being high up in the citysphere but that many of its rooms had views of the Hudson river. It was certainly the reason why we booked it, plus we had an excellent rate from Virgin Holidays.
We walked inside to find a long flight of steps. Our hearts sank. The Conrad's reception was on the first floor. We felt too tired for the climb. Fortunately they had the foresight to situate the concierge desk by the entrance. They took our luggage from us and showed us to the escalator where we glided up to the reception desk.
Here we eventually checked-in after a long delay whilst they tried to locate us on their system! At one point it seriously wasn't looking good as the lady asked us "are you sure you made a reservation at this hotel?"
Eventually she found us. Under my name. No idea what took her so long!
To be fair she was very apologetic and when Julie mentioned (in passing) that we were celebrating her 50th birthday she promised us a "little surprise" for us in our room.
Our room was on the 15th floor, which was their top floor for rooms. We had booked a river view suite so we knew it was decent and spacious with a living area and seperate bedroom, but it still didn't prepare us for the incredible view across the Hudson river towards Jersey City.
As tempted as we were to crash out in bed and call it a night we headed out instead to find something to eat.
It was a glorious evening with the sun begining to set behind the skyscrapers of Manhattan's western neighbour. Looking towards Jersey reminded me of one thing, Bruce Springsteen!
His music has been a major contributor to the soundtrack of our lives. The song "The River" is out of all the songs in the world what we consider to be our song. We were gutted when we found out that his one man show on Broadway had come to an end. Never mind, we have King Kong the musical to look forward to instead!
We walked along the pleasant pedestrianised riverfront, or Battery Park City Esplanade to give it its correct title. It stretched all the way down to the tip of Mahattan, to where the Statten Island Ferry left. We weren't going that far, only a short stroll around the corner to a collection of restaurants clustered around North Cove marina.
We wasted no time in choosing somewhere to eat as we stopped at the very first restaurant bar, P.J. Clarke's. They had plenty of room inside but it was so nice everyone was dining al fresco. There was a bit of a wait but we were happy to do so.
It was a great spot to people watch as couples strolled hand in hand along the esplanade whilst joggers and cyclists hurried past working up a sweat.
A super yatch had moored at the marina and its occupiers were lounging on the upper deck. What a life they must have. Not that we were one bit envious, we always appreciate how fortunate we are, but seriously ... how amazing would it be to be that rich.
In the distance we could see the Statue of Liberty standing tall, all 305 ft of her. We couldn't help but be excited.
After a half hour wait were shown to our table. Julie ordered the ribeye steak and I opted for roasted peppers (not Padron but similar) and a rocket salad, or argula as they call it here (and in Italy).
Despite being 98% rocket leaves the salad was incredibly tasty with apple, roasted almonds, goat cheese and a balsamic dressing creating delicious flavours from something so simple. Julie also loved her steak cooked to medium-rare perfection.
The menu seemed reasonably priced with $36 for the steak and my two dishes combined was $24 but it escalated quickly to $126 with two rounds of drinks and automatically adding an 18% service charge to the bill!
I wish I had realised that before slipping Jorge our Portuguese waiter a further $10 for his attentive service.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the corner of North End Avenue and Vesey Street and stood in awe of the One World Trade Centre. Our thoughts turned to the unimaginable horrors that happened here on the 11th September 2001.
Back in our room we were blown away by the view from our window. The sun setting behind the towers of Jersey City was almost unreal, like they had hung up a painting.
It was early for the city that never sleeps but having been awake for 21 hours we thought 9pm was perfectly acceptable time to go to bed. We couldn't bring ourselves to close the blinds on that view so we fell asleep watching the sky fade to black.
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