Wednesday, 24 February 2010

NY Snapshots. The Train to Ronkonkoma

‘Don’t do it, folks!’ was the advice from our cab driver on the way from JFK to Manhattan, when we asked about the feasibility of returning by train. ‘It’s too easy to get lost and there are baaad people down there.’ Well, of course, he would say that, wouldn’t he? He convinces me, but Tom is made of sterner stuff and is better at doin’ the math – we’d save a heck of a lot by not taking a cab.

We start with a reccy to Penn (Is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?) station opposite the magnificent General Post Office building. The sight of several burly members of the NYPD, not to mention a brace of big beefy Marines convinces me that this is indeed where the baaad people are, although all I can see are commuters going about their normal business. Still, the route doesn’t seem particularly terrifying and it is very cheap so we decide to go for it.

The hotel doormen, the next morning, are not impressed when we shun their offer to hail a cab, thus losing them the chance of another tip. It’s the only time we don’t get a polite smile! The walk to Penn station is doable (even with suitcases full of ‘Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix’ and ‘Aunt Jemima Pancake Syrup’ we’re taking for the folks back home) and it’s easy to find our way round once we get there.

We board the train to Ronkonkoma (which, incidentally, goes through Hicksville, fancy that!) hoping that we won’t actually end up eating ham and eggs in Carolina and sit back as we journey through the suburbs of Queens. Four stops later we change at Jamaica and take the AirTrain to JFK; it’s cheap ($5), quick (less than ten minutes) and brilliantly simple. Well done that Tom for ignoring the cab driver on that one!

With the money we saved and lots of time to spare, I take advantage of the opportunity to have a Ten Minute Manicure at the airport. Well, why not? There’s a sense of completeness about ending the holiday where I started, although this is less than half the price of the manicure I had in Wales and - dare I say it? - twice the value.

Our scheduled flight is only half full so there’s a very relaxed atmosphere. The Delta staff are fantastic; so kind and friendly. All I have to do is sit back and think of all the wonderful sights we’ve seen, the places we’ve been and the people we’ve met. Lady, I think, you did New York!

The top photo is... well, you don't me need to tell you. The bottom photo is another shot of the amazing Chrysler Building.

And that concludes my series of snapshots from New York.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

NY Snapshots. The One Where We Meet Frances

1 February
I’ve had a hankering to visit the Metropolitan Opera ever since Loretta Castorini met Ronny Cammareri there in ‘Moonstruck’. Tom and I have skipped the fancy dress because (1) we’re still battling with freezing New York temperatures and (2) we’re waaaay up in the Gods in the cheap seats, but the Met doesn’t disappoint. Even though, this high up, we can see water damage on the gilded ceiling, it’s still a magnificent venue and the famous crystal chandeliers, which rise up as the production begins, are truly amazing.

We’re here to see a new production of ‘Carmen’. For me, Carmen is two ok-ish tunes and a load of padding. Don’t even get me started on the story. But Tom’s a fan and I’m happy to see more or less anything just to be here. The production begins with a dramatic pas-de-deux in a gash of crimson lighting, foreshadowing trouble ahoy. I’m surprised by how well we can see; I thought they’d all look like microdots from here. The seats are comfortable, we’ve got free playbills, it’s a visual treat and the musicians are superb. What more could you want?

Well, actually, Tom’s been watching the repeats of theoretical physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku's series of programmes on time and would quite like to meet him one day. As we stand up for the interval who should I spot – also in the cheap seats – but Dr. Kaku himself!! Since we would have to clamber over several people to get to Dr. Kaku, we decide it would be better (and a lot more polite) to sit tight, but what are the chances of that happening? And does string field theory explain it?

2 February
Working out the probability of meeting Frances today is a lot easier because we’ve already arranged it. We’re meeting at the other Met (so confusing!; the Metropolitan Museum of Art except that it’s further along Fifth Avenue than we anticipate and we end up hoofing past Central Park at a rate of knots. Even so, we’re five minutes late and I’m mortified, given that Frances has given up her precious time to be with us.

I have absolutely no problem spotting Frances who looks just like the photo on her blog. Chic, petite with a lovely smile, glossy dark hair and beautiful eyes, Frances is absolutely delightful company and it’s like meeting an old friend. Tom and I are incredibly privileged because Frances once worked at the Met so we receive a lively and informative tour of the museum and its stunning collections. Something of our enjoyment rubs off on one of the attendants, an African man with a big smile, we meet in a glass lift. He’s so caught up in our conversation that he follows us out then looks perplexed. ‘What am I doing out here?’ he asks, laughing. ‘I’m supposed to be in there! I was so interested in what you were saying, I forgot what I was doing!’

We forget time, in Frances’s company. Suddenly it’s four o’clock. After a quick peek at the Guggenheim and a failed attempt by Frances to blag a brief glimpse of the interior spiral (what a hard-hearted attendant to resist!) we are back on Fifth Avenue. Frances goes to catch her bus and Tom and I start walking. In some ways it all feels very normal, as if we’ve just said goodbye to a friend who lives round the corner and yet very soon we’ll be 3000 miles away. But what a way to spend our last full day in New York.

The next post concludes my snapshots from New York.

The photo shows the view of our hotel (a smaller dark, glass building near the centre of the picture) from the 'tippy-top' of the Empire State building. We hadn't planned to go up, but walked past on a brilliantly clear day... and, my goodness, were we glad we did!

Frances has a photo of us on her blog - my camera decided not to play inside the Met!

Monday, 15 February 2010

New York Snapshots, Edges of Darkness

30 January
The weather forecasters have promised us the coldest day of the year and they’re not joking. With a wind chill well into the minus figures, New Yorkers have been warned that thirty minutes is the maximum safe period for any exposed flesh. Tom and I are well wrapped up, but the extreme cold is still a shock. In no time at all, my eyeballs feel glazed with ice and my nasal passages burn as if I’m breathing caustic air. A thin scarf I’ve wrapped round my lower face becomes wet and clingy as my breath condenses and chafes my sore lips.

We’re heading for MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art, but this is Saturday and everyone else has the same idea. It’s far too cold to queue. We decide to head back to the hotel to regroup, stopping along the way to browse in Barnes & Noble, the bookshop, and, after another icy blast, at a cafe to warm up with hot chocolate.

Since we’re based just off Times Square, we decide to visit the cinema – something we never do at home because Tom hates going – but, hey! – this is America, so it has to be done. ‘Edge of Darkness’ has just been released here and I’m interested to see how it compares with Troy Kennedy Martin’s original story. To add to our cinema experience, Tom and I opt for the ‘two soft drinks and popcorn’ special that’s on offer, but neglect to check the sizes. Consequently, we end up staggering to our seats with more food and drink than we can comfortably carry, let alone consume. After the hurly-burly of some UK audiences, I am truly impressed by how obedient this group proves. Cell phones are switched off and everyone’s so quiet that, except for a few reactions to the film, you can hear a pin drop most of the time. And the film? Well, let’s just say turning a six hour drama into a two hour film means that anything that requires much thought has been omitted.

31 January
Some sunshine today makes the cold bearable. We take the ‘Downtown Loop’ bus and get off at the World Trade Centre site. On this still, quiet Sunday morning the atmosphere at Ground Zero is palpably sombre and sad. Neither of us feels like hopping straight back on the bus so we walk beside the Hudson which is impressive and beautiful in the morning light and my spirits lift again. Lured by the sunshine, people are venturing out hoping to feel some warmth on their faces. There’s an outbreak of joggers in Battery Park and spoiled little dogs are trotted out by their indulgent owners. A Japanese lady has kitted her pooch out in a pink snowsuit , but, having fought with two pairs of gloves, I’m not quick enough to take a photo.

I’m also entirely unprepared for the sight of the Statue of Liberty. It’s such a familiar image and yet it’s breathtakingly magnificent rising from the water. For me, it’s one of the many sights that will linger in my mind’s eye and make this holiday so memorable.

In the next post... we meet Frances.

The first photo is St Paul’s Church, where George Washington once worshipped. It’s the oldest public building in continuous use in New York City and served as a place of refuge and rest after the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.

The second photo is the diner providing a different sort of rest and refuge, where we stopped for lunch during our Downtown Loop tour.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

New York Snapshots, SATC

29 January
Okay, everyone,’ says our chirpy little guide, sweetly, ‘on the count of three, let’s have a great big F*CK!’ Ooh-er! It’s a bit early in the day for us to be having an enormous f*ck with 38 total strangers so Tom and I keep a bit quiet. Everyone’s looking a tad nervous, but our tour guide’s next quip has us all laughing and we start to relax. This is the Sex and the City tour, but it turns out we’re in safe hands with wonderful stand-up comedienne, Amy Albert, who knows exactly which side of the line to stay on and never singles anyone out for unwelcome attention.

After walking our socks off the previous day, it’s time to settle back in a comfortable bus for three and half hours of SATC sites – what’s not to love? Outside, New York temperatures are plummeting and it’s taken us two stop-offs in warm buildings just to get here. One of them at Tiffany’s where an assistant on the second-floor (where they keep the ‘spectacular jewellery’) can’t resist a ‘Come in again any time you want to warm up, folks’ as Tom and I are leaving. How rude! Well, that’s it! The next time I want to buy a big fat diamond (in my dreams) I shall see my new best friend on 47th Street with her fab selections of rings.

The tour begins at The Plaza Hotel and we pass through Midtown Manhattan, taking in the sights of 5th Avenue, the New York Public Library (scene of that would-be wedding between Carrie and Big) Madison Square, the Flatiron Building and SoHo. In Greenwich Village we stop for a well-deserved cupcake outside the Magnolia Bakery. Amy, it turns out, is terrified of birds and, as the pigeons gather to watch us, tells us about her day from Hell. She was laying out her cupcakes ready for her group, when a pigeon landed on her head and then trampled the cupcakes! Phew, I’m so glad my cupcake wasn’t trashed by a pigeon! The tour continues through the Meatpacking District where we have a nose round the hip restaurant, Buddakan and then we retreat for a Cosmo cocktail at ‘Aidan’s Bar’. Marvellous!

Despite the cupcakes and cocktails, we’re a little peckish when we finish the tour so pop into what is little more than an oven plus corridor for a slice of pizza. No sooner have I taken my first delicious bite when two men in uniform wander in... it’s the New York City Food Inspectors who continue to take the place apart! Noooo! Trying to forget any worries about whether we’ll be well enough to take advantage of the prix fixe meal we’ve booked at a swanky restaurant later, we ride every escalator we can find in Macy’s, including the clunky old wooden ones in the original parts of the building. Neither of us is a great shopper, but it’s great fun seeing what’s about.

Since the pizza hasn’t felled us, we’re well enough to eat out. This is Restaurant Week, when many of the top establishments have special deals. Our meal is wonderful and I have a lovely time watching other people, although the sight of so many teeny, tiny New York women with glowing skin, perfect teeth (there’s an awful lot of ‘Smile Enhancement’ here) and glossy hair is enough to make me feel like the Incredible Hulk. Prize for the Most Entertaining Diner goes to the man on the next table who orders what looks like a brontosaurus steak, rare, no veg and a bottle of red wine – it’s like watching a Quentin Tarantino movie on a plate!

The photo is the view of the stunning Chrysler Building taken from the 102nd-floor observatory of the Empire State Building

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Snapshots from New York

27 January
‘Hey, lady – Chris,’ says the cab driver. ‘Don’t be so polite! Be kind, be nice – but don’t be polite. Ya gotta loosen up! New York ain’t a postcard so don’t just look at it – ya gotta do it!’ Excellent advice, I think, enjoying the banter all the way from the airport. Nevertheless it is hard not to feel that the first things to be done are us as we part with an eye-watering sum of money for the fare.

Reeling and slightly disoriented from the journey we stand in awe outside our hotel, a glittering skyscraper just off Times Square. Inside, it’s just as impressive; a huge atrium with chandeliers, chocolate leather sofas and a small army of uniformed staff smiling as if they’ve been waiting all day just to meet us. We glide up the escalators to another vast room with yet more staff who also beam at us. By the time we reach our room on the 22nd floor, I’m seriously worried that there’s been a misunderstanding with our last-minute deal.

When we open the door to our room, I just know we’re going to have to clean this place for the rest of our lives to cover the bill that must surely be coming. It’s glorious; an enormous modern room dominated by a king-size bed which, judging by depth of the mattress and the pile of duvets, must surely have a very small pea hidden somewhere at the bottom. The bathroom’s pretty amazing too; all mod cons and stacks of fluffy white towels, but what really takes my breath away is the view across the Manhattan skyline and the Hudson River.

Eventually we drag ourselves away and find an Italian restaurant straight out of ‘Moonstruck’. An early night is order, but first we’ll watch President Obama’s State of the Union address. Well, that’s the plan. No sooner do I lie back on the Princess and the Pea bed when I’m out like a light. Not much in the way of blue blood flowing through my veins then.

28 January
Wide awake and raring to go at the Crack of Doom, we consult the hotel breakfast menu, blink at the prices and rapidly decide to hit the diner across the road. Bamboozled by a bewildering selection we end up with a very strange combo, but, hey, it hits the spot and we’re good to go. It’s snowing and I’m amused by the number of small dogs in coats and boots but shocked at the women in fur coats.

Our plan today is to explore on foot. Unfortunately for Tom, our walk takes us through the Diamond District. I helpfully point out the ring he should buy me and the assistant watching from inside beckons me in to try it on. Declining quickly I walk away, kicking myself that I have just turned down the chance to try on the biggest diamond of my life. Lady, I remind myself, ya gotta do New York, not look at it!

The photo shows one of the views from our room - alas, I am no photographer so this doesn't begin to do it justice!

Friday, 5 February 2010

Turning The Tide

Look what I came home to last night! It's even on Amazon! How exciting is that? (Well, obviously not as exciting for you as it is for me - but I am thrilled to bits!)

If you would like to read a taster pop over to Choc Lit where you'll find the prologue and first chapter.

I'm afraid all the excitement on top of jet-lag means I'm not doing too well on the joined-up thinking front so I'd best leave it at that for today!