April 02, 2009 GMT
Australia to New York

This first entry may be a bit longer than we anticipated, but we have included the departure from Sydney and our first four days in the "Big Apple" - New York. I am sure our future entries will be shorter but they hopefully will be more regular. Internet connections in NY were hard to find. Today the damned power supply for the laptop died on me, so that created a further delay grrr lol...

Saturday 28th March 2009 - Wings to America.


Steve and I met up at Sydney’s Mascot International Airport on Saturday to begin our adventure. The night before my sons had presented me with an “Aussie” flag that has been screen printed with a special inscription as you can see by the photo. This I intend to fly off the back of the bike

USA01 Mascot Departure 02.JPG

Now, the first part of any flight is the check in. Boring and uneventful in most instances, however in this case we discover we have been upgraded to Business Class from economy class. This is nothing spectacular for Steve who often travels Business Class with work, but for me this is a real bonus. We got bigger seats, more leg room and even proper china and cutlery to eat with. Not to mention the complimentary glass of champagne before take-off in proper glasses, not plastic. The meals were restaurant quality. Oh my…. How can I ever go back to Cattle class?

To say that the flight was long would be understating it…… 22hr 30 mins. Managed to watch 3 new release movies. I took 4 sleeping tablets but sleep evaded me. The highlight of the flight was the 2nd leg. We flew out of LA, over the Grand Canyon and then North East over Denver, Chicago and the Great Lakes before heading down into NY. There were many vastly differing topographies. From rivers winding their way through deep red canyons to snow covered hills...... umm not just on the hills. I am deeply concerned at the amount of snow still covering such large areas of the country. I think I’m going to need to invent the first set of snow chains for bikes, alternatively I’ve suggested to Steve that he may need to ensure that his car has a tow ball and a bike trailer.


On arrival at both LA and NY airports we were both disappointed at how unwelcoming the staff are. On the opposite side of the coin though, everyone else has been only too happy to help two dumb assed Aussies find their way around. With the assistance of a couple of the locals we managed to navigate our way from JFK Airport to our hotel Excelsior on West 81 Street, Manhattan. Because I didn’t want to spend $50 on a taxi, we finished up using the subway. It works well and the trains are regular.


After settling in, we showered and changed and headed for a beer and some dinner. We found a good little Japanese restaurant where we quickly downed a few beers and some sushi and sashimi.

Sunday 29th March 2009 – So This is New York?


Day broke early, but we didn’t. We surfaced at 9:30. Sharing a room with someone else makes economical sense, but if one of you is a terrible snorer, you have a problem. After throwing a pillow at Steve and not making an impression I knew I was in trouble. He woke me up each half hour with his snoring, and then I woke him up each half hour to stop his snoring. Finally I found the ear plugs I brought, they helped a little.


New York this Sunday was pretty bleak. Very overcast, cold and rain threatened all day. I decided that we would walk to Time Square. Steve thought the train was a good idea, but WE needed the exercise. We arrived at Columbus Circle after a half hour walk. Here we stopped to take pictures of the surrounds and the Donald Trump tower. While taking pictures, one of the police cars turned their flashing lights on so we had some to take a picture of it. I started a conversation with this cop which lasted about 30 minutes, he was ex US Army... so something in common. NY005 Steve likes the boys.JPG

A very friendly encounter with New York’s finest. We then headed into the Time Warner building for lunch where Steve made friends with wonderful big boy. He couldn't stop smiling. NY005 Steve likes the boys.JPG This was an amazing trip into the world of US shopping. After lunch we continued our walk towards Times Square. Because of the rain we retreated to a cab. We have all heard of New York cabs. This one did not fit the mould. For a start the driver was female. She was Chinese and she spent the entire trip talking to someone in Chinese on her mobile phone and had difficulty seeing over the dash board. This particular cab was a bit of a cess pit – not sure about the rest of the fleet. We were dropped at the Intrepid Air and Space Museum. This is the retired aircraft carrier Intrepid with lots of WWII, planes and space memorabilia including a Stealth Bomber.
NY028 Blackbird or Stealth.JPG
We spent a couple of hours going over the carrier and its planes ending with a walk through a retired BA Concord. Then we walked back to Time Square. Finally, in a place that is absolutely New York. Huge brilliant billboards and traffic everywhere. Lots of photos and a quick trip to the half price theatre ticket outlet.
NY030 Times Square1.JPG
Drop off at the Virgin Megastore on its last day and then a short walk to the famous Macy’s. I needed to purchase a jumper as I had neglected to pack one in Canberra which proved to be a bit of an oversight. By this point the only thing both Steve and I wanted to do was to take the weight off our suffering feet. A $2 subway ride back uptown (or is that downtown) delivered us to our hotel. It seems that no one knows the subway system really well, or at least the people we asked.

We had dinner at a local pub with an Irish flavour. This was staffed by Irish people who were very friendly. A coupe of beers and dinner and we both retired back to the hotel where we updated the blog.

Monday 30th March 2009 – New York Day 2 – Did you know that New York has 635 miles of Subway Tracks.


Snoring Steve went to the “drug store” last night and bought some spray in an attempt to eradicate his problem (or is it my problem??). Whatever, it failed and the old ear plugs came out again. He is now going to try some strips – I can assure you it is for the good of his own health!! Grrr.


This morning started a little earlier today with a walk through the beautiful Central Park, Manhattan which is only about 200 yards from our hotel. Paths wind in and around the park and it’s approximately 6 miles around the outside tracks. At the moment it is too early in the spring for the trees to be blooming, but we can only imagine how spectacular it is.

From New York

From here we wandered on down through the upper east side and found a little cafe for breakfast. It was another cold day with winds coming from the snow. By now we are beginning to think we could have easily have left our departure from Oz by at least a month. Today, we lashed out and spent $7.50 on a “fun pass” on the subway. This allowed us to use the subway all day as much as we liked and man, did we use it!! If we didn’t catch 10 trains today, I’d be surprised. Our first one took us to Grand Central Station. This fantastic building has the largest unsupported roof you could expect to find and its marble everywhere. We eventually made our way to Penn St Station (another two subway rides) to buy our Amtrack ticket to Washington DC for Wednesday. From here we headed Downtown to the financial district. Wall Street and the NY Stock Exchange – police are everywhere and armed to the teeth, we’re talking helmets, machine guns, vests, the works. This is a bit of an eye opener for a couple of Aussies who aren’t used to such shows of armed readiness. Our legs and feet are starting to complain. Just south of here is Pier One where we board the Staten Island Ferry.... finally we find something that is FREE. This ride takes about an hour or so for the return journey and takes us right past The Lady, aka The Statue of Liberty. In the background we can see a miniature Sydney Harbour Bridge.
NY047 Statue of Liberty2.JPG


On our return, we jump another train to Little Italy. We walked up onto the Brooklyn Bridge which was an engineering marvel for its time and gave us great views over the river. Then onto Little Italy where we find that it has sadly been predominately overtaken by China Town. Here we found a restaurant that gave us a superb Italian two course meal for $10. On to another couple of trains and we find our way back to Times Square to see what shows had half price tickets available.... none that we wanted, so on to M&M World. Here we find 3 floors of shopping entirely dedicated to M&M products...... only in America.

From New York

Too tired tonight to go out so I suspect an early night is in order.

Tuesday 31st March 2009 – New York Day 3 (By Steve)


I am writing this on Wednesday morning while we ride the train from New York to Washington. Very comfortable. It leaves from Penn station, not Grand Central. Make sure you skip their sandwiches.


Paul was up and dressed by 4:00 this morning. Still can’t adjust his body clock. Fortunately for me he grabbed his notebook and disappeared down stairs to work on the blog and labelling his pictures. He returned at some point to try and grab some more sleep, but it didn’t come. Last night I tried some adhesive strips over the bridge of my nose in attempt to alleviate my snoring. I really need to do something otherwise I will find myself sleeping in the hallway. This seems to have been reasonably successful, and I suspect that I didn’t apply it correctly the previous night.

We head out before 8 and return to the little cafe just the other side of Central Park. It is pretty cold for a couple of Aussies, but the locals don’t seem to mind. There are many people walking their dogs, or dogs belonging to other people throughout the park. It seems like a very social event. Breakfast has gone up, Paul is getting into this American breakfast routine and it costs us $15 today.

I have convinced Paul that we should go and look at the Guggenhiem Museum as our first event for the morning. This was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (Simon & Garfunkel sang about him). When I say convinced I am talking twisted arm. We arrive at 9:20, it doesn’t open until 10. We walk across the street and back into Central Park. We come across the Jackie Kennedy Onassis reservoir which has an exercise track surrounding it. Lots of people running and walking around the track. After a few minutes of walking we stop and take in our surroundings. A very fit jogger stops and asks if we are tourists. When he discovers that we are Australian he becomes very excited, his father-in-law is an Australian. He proceeds to tell us how great New York is and how it is the best f...ing city in the world. He is very passionate about this. We talk, but mainly listen for about 15 minutes. New Yorkers seem very friendly and very proud of their city. Any time we stop and look at a map someone is at our elbow asking if they can help. We continue to walk around the lake to get a better view of downtown, as suggested by our friendly jogger.

From New York

We return to the museum which is open by this point. A $20 entrance fee and a bag inspection and we are in. This is a truly remarkable building. The major part is a spiral ramp which winds its way up seven floors with arts works on the walls and additional rooms off to the side with some amazing art. Paul is much better at looking at art than I am as he has looked at it all and is in the coffee shops before I am half way through. I am not sure I am the right person to comment on the art in this building. The box which was covered in gold flake, The pile of Japanese paper in a Perspex box, the painting that was all black next to the painting that was all white. They did have some masters which I was more at home with. I really like the headphones that they give you where you key in the number of the art piece and they give you the background. There were a number of school groups going through at the same time. They all seem to enjoy the experience, what a great resource for them. Paul was very gracious and lasted two and a half hours.

Then it was back on the subway and down to Time Square. I think we have the system mastered now. Downtown is towards the city, uptown is away from the city. Once you have this, you’re off and running. I always thought the idea of giving all your streets ‘numbers’ for names, like west 45th Street was a very unimaginative concept. Having spent four days in New York I now think it is a really smart idea. It really helps you get around easily. Back to Times Square. We had come here to try to score some half price tickets for a show from a well know outlet called Tckts. We arrived at 1:30 and it didn’t open until 2:00. Paul volunteered to stand in line first while I rested my tired feet. 45 minutes later we had tickets to The Phantom of the Opera. This is now the longest running show on Broadway – 21 years. Now to find somewhere for lunch. I wanted to go back to Little Italy, Paul’s feet wouldn’t carry him that far. We settled on Planet Hollywood. They are not famous for their cooking and never will be. Following lunch we headed for the subway again. Sometimes the entrances are not so easy to find. We returned to 81st street. Paul retired back to the hotel while I left to visit the New York Jewish museum. Not going to make my list of must see sites in New York. I was amazed however at the life in the park. There were hundreds, if not thousands of people doing all sort of outdoor activities in the park. It was a beautiful spring afternoon and everyone was in the outdoors enjoying the rare sun.

Back to the hotel, quick shower and then back to Broadway for the show. The numbered streets are a great idea, but if you get off a train and you are disoriented, it is easy to walk in the wrong direction (maybe not for everyone), but we seem to do this on a semi regular basis. So after walking down the longest block in New York and finding we have taken the wrong direction, it was a quick reversal and back down the longest block in New York. The show was great, the cast talented and the staging very good. It reminded me greatly of the Sydney version. Both were staged on the same stages with very effective use of the area. At intermission a policeman was standing in the foyer. After the show a policeman was standing in the middle of the street outside the theatre. If there is something New York has plenty of, it’s police. They are everywhere. They are all very friendly and helpful. Finally back to the subway, again taking the wrong direction down a very long block in the very cold night. Times Square at night just needs to be seen. It is gobsmacking.


On arriving back at the hotel we ventured into the bar next to the hotel for a cup of tea –yep, we are truly old sad men. We sat in the lounge area and had for company a couple who were very interested in each other. When the guy came up for air he noticed he had company. Like your typical New Yorker he started to talk to us. It turns out he had spent a couple of months on various occasions in Sydney. Well, the next hour and a half had us looking for the off switch. His friend who was by her own admission, very, very drunk, went to sleep after the introductions. We were entertained with stories ranging far and wide for 90 minutes. Every city we told him we were visiting he would tell us we were crazy. He suggested that we spend our entire time in New York, or if we needed a second city try Madrid. Finally the staff very politely threw us out and we could escape to the quiet of our room.


Tomorrow onto Washington

Posted by Paul Brealey at April 02, 2009 03:00 AM GMT
 
 

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