A Travellerspoint blog

The Final Roundup

Just Drive!

semi-overcast 74 °F

Bag End - Sunday 27th May, completed Wednesday 30th May 2018

The Final Roundup!
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The PC is copying countless picture and video files from SD cards from our cameras before starting the epic Sunday morning job for John, that of editing the 2018 USA Movie ("For Our Eyes Only" - wouldn't dream of boring anyone else with it). He only just finished editing the 2016 movie before our 2018 trip. Hoping this one doesn't take so long.

Talking of boring anyone else - as is clear, we made it back to Bag End safe and sound on Monday but it was a l-o-n-g journey.

Meanwhile back to Saturday in New York. It had stopped raining and we had dried our socks after our rather moist visit to Brooklyn (which we did enjoy despite the rain) and we took a walk through the Chelsea district of Manhattan. Once a very gay, and slightly dodgy, area, now not, though there are still one or two bars dotted around, which confirms what we thought, the younger generations have "merged" into the general population.

But we found a great and very old fashioned diner: "Hector's Diner" where we were served some old fashioned yet edible food by a very old fashioned and creaky waiter of indeterminate extraction. John had meatloaf (the dish) and Bob the baked ham. We walked past packed outdoor bars (straight) through battalions of Uber cars and taxis, picking up and dropping off young New Yorkers, out to make the most of their Saturday night.

(Van spotted in Brooklyn)
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Where there used to be dodgy bars and a meat market, there's now very expensive shops, with a nice selection of chandeliers, Paul:
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We went back to complete our packing for the journey home. We learned from the "Night Manager" that we would be able keep our room until around 2pm on Sunday which was a great help.

Sunday morning was very warm and the sun put in a guest appearance. We were lucky to get the last table, again (it happened each time we ate there) at Bonbonniere for a final "greasy" breakfast. To be honest the food was not as good as when it was run by two extremely grumpy old men - (it seems the affluent New Yorkers who now mostly fill this place are not so fussy?).

We then walked to Washington Square. On Sundays, this used to be a venue for eccentrics and show-offs to dress up and, er, show off. Sadly there was only one left, a guy who, by continually feeding them, covered himself with fluttering pigeons. There were a couple of buskers and one man sitting on a bench blowing his own trumpet. Like most places, New York has certainly changed. Not so exciting, not so edgy, not so dangerous. Still love it though.

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This guy must have been famous (sportsman?) as they spent the whole time we were there photographing him. Anyone recognise him?!
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Not sure how this busker got his instrument there!
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The Incentra in Greenwich Village, where we've stayed since 1981, the year they opened
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We'd spent much time on the phone trying to get the driver details for our car to JFK airport. Finally, after the usual hold of almost 8 minutes before getting an answer (no, many US companies really are NOT efficient), then being put on hold for a further 5 minutes, we got the details we required.

Then a short while later we got a call from the car company who would actually transport us. Could they come 30 minutes early? "No, you couldn't", we wouldn't have been ready. So 2.30 it was.

Igor, our driver, also owner of the company. He's Armenian (we made the mistake of thinking he was Russian, as one would). His brother lives near Alicante
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Horrendous traffic to get off Manhattan and over 59th Street Bridge (as made famous by Simon & Garfunkel), (or was it the Williamsburg Bridge?) to join the mostly horrendous traffic in Queens. We eventually arrived at JFK and, before we knew it, were in the very smart but also very busy American Airlines Flagship Lounge. This used to be reserved for 1st Class passengers but most of their aircraft these days don't have First Class Cabins and their clientele was dwindling. So they changed the rules to allow the likes of us in! We had read about another, separate, area to the lounge called The Bridge. There was all peace, quiet and emptiness and we were able to order from the menu a delicious and substantial snack of (boneless) rib tacos. They really were delicious.

"The Bridge and its very keen waiter
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Back to the main lounge where we found a really extensive and high quality buffet. Roast beef, poached salmon, hams, cheeses, salads, puds, etc etc.

Arthur checks out the food selection
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Great early evening views towards Manhattan
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Good job we had all that, as our flight was delayed, first by 3½ hours, then 2½ hours and finally almost 5 hours as we did not take off until almost midnight when our original flight time was 7pm. We were well looked after by an AA lady who took us under her wing and made every effort to reroute us even though we kept telling her we were willing to wait (as our original connection time in Madrid was almost 8 hours!). One problem with the AA lady was that her English was not so easy to understand and she kept calling to update us; we had to try and guess what on earth it was she was telling us. "Absolutely", "great", "thank you so much", we fibbed. John eventually had the bright idea to ask her to text the information rather than call as our phone "had gone faulty". But the phone calls kept coming with incomprehensible "updates". She was a lovely lady and really looked after us. We think.

Once boarded, Bob was, again, sitting behind John and communication was possible but not easy. John checked the American Airlines app on our US phone, where we could check that our bags had been loaded. One said "on board" the other said "checked in" which meant, as far as their system was concerned, it had not been loaded. Mild panic set in. A quick call to our AA Angel and she flapped her wings and said she'd check. Wings still flapping (perhaps that's why she was difficult to understand?), she called back and we think she said that, as the bag was no longer lying around, they were confident it was onboard but had not been scanned. We think she also said that she had checked with the tower but how the control staff would know, we could not work out. Maybe it was to check how late we were going to be? Or even to chivvy them along and get our plane off the ground?

She eventually came on board to confirm our bags were on and to wish us a good flight. The doors were then closed and we taxied out to join the queue to get in the air.....

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We had significantly snacked during our time in the lounge so were not able to do our meal onboard justice. (Bob had pre-ordered the "Fenugreek Herbed Chicken with tomato quinoa rice, haricots verts, tikka masala sauce". He said it was "OK". John had the "Quinoa and Panko Crusted Prawns, with roasted rainbow carrots, zucchini noodles, ginger hibiscus reduction". I have no idea what most of that means, but the carrots were nice!). There was a huge "Boston Bibb" salad with grapes and feta (which was extremely difficult to eat with a fork as the grapes kept rolling off, into the darkest corners of my seat and the feta crumbled, what a mess!) and a very large starter of "Fig and Goat Cheese Chicken Roulade" which was disappointingly tasteless.

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We settled down for the night. but even with a "flat bed", sleep was not easy. However, before we knew it, we were being woken by the Flight Attendant for our breakfast (it was a choice whether to be woken or not). A fresh fruit and yoghurt plate with hot coffee revived us enough to get off the 767 and speed through immigration at Madrid. No bags to collect as they were checked through to Alicante.

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By the time we got into the Iberia Dali lounge (which they had been threatening to close for refurbishment) we only had about 90 minutes to doze (at least John did. Luckily Bob stayed awake), before our flight to Alicante was being called.

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We got to the gate only for them to announce the inward flight from Barcelona was delayed. The mass around the small gate - the service is on an Air Nostril (Nostrum, Arthur, Nostrum!) regional jet - grew restless. Gradually, more and more wheelchairs turned up and the whole melée became almost unbearable. An hour late, they started the boarding process but, as soon as the wheelchairs went through the gate, the churning mass of "able bodied" passengers turned into a rugby scrum. We managed to keep ahead of most of them and waited on the tarmac and watched as the wheelchair-bound passengers got out of their chairs and nimbly scaled the steep ladder up into the plane.

Again, impeccable service from the extremely glamorous Air Nostrum FAs. Newspapers, drinks and a Hägen Daz ice cream instead of a sandwich, which was most welcome. How they do all that plus the usual flight business on what is only a 45 minute flight? Almost miraculous.

We had to go into a special customs-controlled area to collect our bags, as they had not yet passed through Spanish customs and, unusually, all were stopped and questioned before being allowed to exit. Oh, that second bag..... usually our bags come out together but there were some heart-stopping minutes before that "missing" second bag clunked its way onto the belt.

Our neighbour, John, appeared in our Tiguan as we emerged from the terminal, and kindly drove us back to Bag End where Sofi was waiting for us, wailing her head off. "How dare you leave me for 5 years?!".

A few bits to mention which never made it to previous Blogs.

We made several purchases before our trip and, in a minor way, made our travels a lot better. Firstly, a good quality Sony pocket camera, so we could leave the big camera behind (which saved Bob's shoulder, hauling the equipment bag around). Secondly, a cheap and light Sony camcorder. The quality is as good as our old one but, again, much more compact and lighter. Hours and hours of video fitted on to just 3 SD cards. We used to have boxes of tape!

From Amazon.es we bought a digital battery clock which permanently shows the time on a large display. Great when you wake up during the night and don't have to grope for that travel clock which you can't read without your glasses anyway!

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And a sponge bag which actually works. Again from Amazon. It took everything we needed and kept it all organised, and hung on a hook in the bathroom, if the hotel designers thought to provide one.

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It's amazing how many hotels did not have a hook. And, a note to hotel designers everywhere:- before deciding where to put the toilet roll holder, please sit on the toilet and see if you can reach where you plan to put it without performing circus tumbling routines or spraining your back or neck and/or slipping a disk. And how can you have a shower without a shelf? Nowhere to put those little bottles of shampoo etc? Of course, those cause problems in themselves. It's not possible to read the label without your glasses (tried washing your hair with body lotion recently?) and are all but impossible to open with wet hands without the aid of a device for getting stones out of horses whatsits.

Don't get me started. There is also, of course, the morning trauma of making a cup of coffee. All of the coffee makers supplied by the hotels have subtle differences so you never know how they work. Inside a foil/cellophane packet is a coffee bag which usually has to be placed inside a carrier which then, in theory, slides 'easily' into the coffee maker. Of course, it is all too easy to tear the coffee bag at the same time as the wrapper meaning you have coffee grounds everywhere, added to which the cup used for pouring water into the machine, dribbles water everywhere, which makes quite a mess. This is not helped when the machine has eventually been set up, by John forgetting to put the cup under the nozzle, meaning that liquid, boiling coffee joins the mess around the coffee machine. This only happened twice, but twice was enough.

And another thing.... an issue of tissue. Even some upmarket hotels supplied cheap, thin toilet paper. What a false economy and so inconvenient for its customers. It was a great relief to get home and back to Mercadona's bog-standard toilet tissue.

Some general notes about the USA, things we tend to forget. Though it's rare to see litter, as you drive through the countryside and pass through little towns/villages or cities, each house or mobile home usually has at least 25 old pickups lying about plus old farm machinery, piles of old metal and heaps of old general junk. The exception to this, of course, is the area of Michigan we visited and any other areas which were mainly settled by German/Dutch/Scandinavians whose land is usually impeccably tidy. I'm sorry to report that, in most, but by no means all, Indian reservations, the problem of junk is even worse.

We forget the universal and unbelievable keenness and politeness of serving staff in catering establishments, hotels etc, and they really do seem keen to find out how your day is going. Difficult for we reserved Western Europeans to deal with: all this enthusiasm early in the morning or, indeed, at any time of day.

We'd stopped to fill up with "gas" after our night in Deadwood at a place out in the South Dakota countryside, when a woman pulled up in her pickup and asked Bob, who was cleaning the windscreen, if we were from "Cali". Bob had no idea what she meant and shrugged his shoulders in case she was the local Crazy Woman and quickly climbed back into the car. It was only a little later that we remembered that our Ford Expedition was from California and she wanted to know if we were from that state.

Here's an ad we spotted on a billboard. "Life's too short for an ugly kitchen".

And we think John failed to mention that, when we were driving round the peaceful coastline of Lake Superior, twice he saw a Bald Eagle flying overhead. Unfortunately we failed to capture them on camera.

Here's a random few pictures you hopefully, Vivienne, have not seen before and deserve an airing!

"Anthea!"
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Finally, we have already started firing possible places to visit next time at each other. So, see you in two year's time, Higher Power willing!

Finally, finally, we must say how much we appreciated all of your support with 'Likes' & Comments on Facebook along with comments on the Blog. Though it does take some time to do the Blog, it's great to have it, to remind us of the wonderful places we've been. On this trip, we would not have changed any of it. Thank you!

And we can't finish without a burst of our 'theme tune'. Just Drive! (And, for the record, we Just Drove 4,625 miles).

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Posted by Johnash 07:52 Archived in USA Comments (8)

The Big, Soggy Apple

And, by the way, where have all the gays gone?!

sunny 81 °F

Tabor Room, Incentra, 32, 8th Ave, Manhattan
Saturday 19th May

Luckily, the forecast that stated it was going to be raining the whole time on every day of our visit here, has been partly wrong. But today, it is tipping down again but, we were not discouraged and took our trip to Brooklyn.

But first, back to Wednesday. An untraumatic 4 minute drive took us to the Hertz car return depot at Chicago airport. The worst part of the journey was having to haul our heavy cases up the steps of the Hertz bus to the terminal and then again up 3 floors, up narrow steep steps to our room for four nights.

A smooth flight with a great view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, before we disappeared into the clouds somewhere over Eastern Michigan.

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We were served a pretty good hot meal on the shortish flight. Bob had "steel cut" oatmeal (ie porridge) and John a nice omelette served with sausage and fresh fruit,

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We'd booked a car online to take us from Newark airport to the bottom of 8th Avenue on Manhattan. The driver called while we were waiting for our bags but it was impossible to understand his English (something that has proved to be quite a common problem here!). John guessed that he wanted us to call when we had our bags. A text seemed to work better and we waited outside watching the chaos of treble/quadruple parked limos and private cars picking people up. A stretch limo pulled up and we could see the driver making a call. It was for us. Something we had NOT ordered (too embarrassing) nor paid for. No matter, we had a comfortable ride over toll bridges high over Jersey City and over the Hudson to one of our favourite places.

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Incentra it's called and we've been staying here since 1981. On the edge of Greenwich Village in a double townhouse built in 1842. It was all very familiar. The same shops, and the same greasy spoon right next door! But The Village has now almost completely gentrified, with many shops selling posh clothes (from a stock of about 20 items) and other businesses aiming at a very up market clientele. Last time we noticed this, but this time it was driven home that this once very gay village is no longer so. Apparently, they've been forced out by the sky-high rents and now hang out in Chelsea. We're planning to check this out later, in the hope it may have stopped raining by then. (Update: nope, they're not in Chelsea either. Discussing this with the "weekend manager" here, it seems that the "Gay Village" is no more, with people integrating much more. This is good and bad. Good from the point of view acceptance and legality, but sad that the community spirit and that feeling of having a "special identity" has all-but disappeared).

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Our limo partially blocking 8th Avenue
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After we'd settled in, we decided to get out of the rain by visiting Bloomingdale's famous store, somewhere we'd not been before. First, having watched a video on how to do so, we kitted ourselves out with two 7-day passes for the public transport system. We are able to use these on the subway and buses. But OH, THE STAIRS! Escalators are few and far between (we've only found one) and, though there are elevators, they are either difficult to find, or out of order. So, on top of a lot of walking between subway stations etc, we have climbed an awful lot of stairs, not counting the ones back up to our room.

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So, get this people, John's new belt, purchased at Phoenix Bootbarn: well, he bought a size too large. So a kind man in a leather shop in Wickenburg, AZ punched two extra holes. The last but one hole was just right. No way, with all this eating, would John use that last hole that he punched. Well, with all this exercise, that last hole is now in use!!

Thursday morning, we were early on parade for our pre-booked tour at the World Trade Center, 9/11 Memorial. This was a special tour before the museum and memorial is open to the public. We were kitted out with radio headphones so we could listen to the truly excellent guide who told us all about the horrors of that day. It was incredibly moving and so sad. It became clear that those public servants like firemen and police who died on that day almost had the easier option as their colleagues who spent days breathing in all the debris and fumes have been slowly dying from various ailments since, mainly lung complaints and a number of types of cancer.

We were told that the official view was that the 2nd tower was safe and people were told to return to their workplaces and those evacuating the building actually turned round and went back, probably to their death.

One story of a window cleaner and others trapped in an express lift between floors was one of many. But this was particularly striking. Between them they managed to use his squeegee to force open the elevator doors, only to find they were faced by a wall. But this was a screen wall and they started to chip away at it with the squeegee and their hands and fists. Eventually, they dug out a hole big enough to get out. They managed to make their way down the only safe staircase (which is pictured here) and survived.

If, Dear Readers, you get the opportunity to come here to New York, that tour is an absolute must. Book it online!

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Every day, a yellow rose is placed on the tile of those whose birthday it is
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When we emerged, emotionally wrung out, it had stopped raining, which cheered us up no end and we found a great place for a good value breakfast. It looked expensive and we almost didn't go in but were glad we did, as a full and very good breakfast was only $8.50. Now that's cheap for Manhattan, let alone Downtown in the Financial District.

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Then, with it still dry, we decided to do our customary trip on the Staten Island Ferry. We usually do it at dusk on the day we arrive but, as it was pouring with rain then, we had skipped that.

Of course, by Midday, it was inundated with tourists which seemed to upset some of the locals just trying to get home, or to work. But these boats are big enough to swallow up huge crowds of people. And we got some great views from the rear boarding deck. We had to get off and join the crowds waiting to come back, but it was all very civilised and quick. For a change, rather than go with the crowds to watch Lower Manhattan appear, we stayed at the back and watched the unusual view of Staten Is, Jersey and the Verrazano Bridge fade into the mist. We saw Queen Mary 2 tied up in the docks of Brooklyn. We're sure that passengers, who would have been told their destination was New York, would have been disappointed that they had not tied up on Manhattan like the QE2 used to.

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Phew! What next? The Metropolitan Museum. A subway to Upper Eastside where posh people, and even posher dogs, dwell. Snooty concierges smoke outside the smart entrances to the billionaire-owned apartments. As we approach the Met, we see lines of tour buses and hoards of tourists which nearly drove us away again. But we persisted and quickly paid our $25 dollar, each, entrance fee and wandered away from the crowds to be amazed at the range of exhibits. We saw rows of Rodins, walls of Hoppers and others of his ilk, clutches of Faberge eggs, and battalions of pre-historic treasures, scary tribal masks and Graeco-Roman statues and artefacts.

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By now we were beginning to flag so we asked Google Maps (without which our time here would have been much more difficult) to find us somewhere for dinner, and took a cross-town bus to an unpretentious diner on 2nd Avenue.

Now, this bus journey leads your chronicler to pause to relate how, on this trip, we have found New Yorkers to be much more friendly and helpful than before. At least, some of them have been. On the subway, Bob had a problem with his MTA card. He'd swiped it a 2nd time and was not let in. John was already through the vicious turnstile. A young lady going out, saw Bob's distress and swiped her card to let him in. Another example: we boarded the bus and looked to swipe our card by the driver, but there was no box to do so. Aah, a new system has come in on some bus lines and you have to swipe the card and take a ticket before boarding the bus. First of all, amazingly, the bus driver advised us what to do and waited patiently while we failed to manage to perform that simple operation. A kind lady, already on the bus, got off and showed us what to do. We all got back on and the smiling driver carried on. All sweetness and light!

In the diner, we got into deep conversation with the waiter who turned out to be Greek and had a house on Cephalonia, an island we had crossed on the way to Ithaca. He had moved with his parents when he was about one year old to New York and spent his whole life here, apart from the odd visit to Cephalonia to visit his family. We were puzzled by this as his accent was so strong that we had huge difficulties understanding him.

And we do hear Spanish conversation everywhere and feel quite at home as a result.

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Yesterday we had a light breakfast at the Greasy Spoon next door (aka Bonbonniere, a posh name that just does not fit. It has been a greasy spoon since 1981 and has not changed one iota). We had booked a food tour of the Lower East Side, operated by the Tenement Museum which was set up to demonstrate the lifestyle and conditions that the various waves of immigrants have had to endure. We were led round various establishments, German, Jewish, Italian, Chinese & Hispanic and, at each stop, we were served by one of the two guides a sample of that particular ethnic food, from pretzels, to pickles, to salami, to dumplings, to cheese with something similar to quince jelly, to custard tarts and so on. Our fellow party members included a young guy from Madrid who was a chef and working on Bermuda, a party of Jewish ladies from California who were great fun until one of them tripped and fell quite badly and had to give up the tour, to a family whose son, from Indianapolis, had just graduated...... We were slightly disappointed that we did not enter most of the establishments but, on reflection, that would simply have not been practical.

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This Jewish gentleman came up to our group and joined in the conversation about Kosher pickles. I asked him if he was a tailor. "Yes, of course". Well, unbelievably, we spoke to this man outside his shop at least 20 years ago. Unforgettable as he had bright ginger hair (now mostly grey). He had tried to sell us a suit, made to measure.
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We returned to our room for a brief siesta, buying sandwiches from a deli on the way. These were for later as, next, we had another highlight of this trip: a concert of Russian music, including Tchaikovsky's 4th, at Carnegie Hall. The young Lithuanian female conductor was brilliant as was the Met Orchestra and after many calls, we were given an encore.

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We emerged to the lights of "Broadway", though most of the theatres are scattered throughout the district, and then had great difficulty finding the correct entrance to the subway and the '3 Train'. John asked a large black lady who turned out to be a bag lady. She was most helpful and pointed us in the right direction. No wonder we couldn't find it, as there was only a tiny sign and it looked just like another shop entrance. Another few hundred steps to climb to get up to 7th Avenue and a pleasant walk back to our room on 8th Avenue (oh no, those narrow steps to climb too!) to devour our delicious sandwiches and climb happily in to bed for another episode of our 3rd Paul Temple adventure.

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We had nothing specific planned for today but we wanted to explore Brooklyn. After a late-ish breakfast in our Greasy Spoon which was packed to the steamed-up windows, we took the Q train to a random point in Brooklyn near Prospect Park. There we found the barriers still up for the half marathon which had been held earlier. And by the park an interesting "farmers" market. It poured with rain the whole time but we wandered the treelined streets of brownstones and gasped at the prices in "realtors" windows. We had a pleasant coffee in a local coffeeshop and then boarded what turned out to be the wrong bus to get back to a suitable subway station. The windows were steamed up and the bus was full of noisy Haitian kids (yesterday, an area in Flatbush was declared Little Haiti). The map on John's phone eventually showed us that the bus was not going where we wanted to, so we quickly got off, almost at the point where we had started. A short walk found us at the subway station where we took a packed and and uncomfortable 'Q Train' over Manhattan Bridge (what a view) back to 7th Avenue and the 'L Train' back to 8th Avenue, using the elevators at both stations to save at least some of the stairs. (We have yet to get the 'A Train'!)

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Spot the "deliberate" mistake
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We are now packing for our flight back to Madrid tomorrow (Sunday), which is late afternoon. We booked a car for 2.30 and we have just learned we can keep our room until then as it is not booked for tomorrow night. That is a huge bonus as, otherwise, we would have had to "camp out" in the very small lounge next door. As it is, we can have a good breakfast and wander, possibly to watch the loons at Washington Square, assuming they still perform on Sunday mornings. Bob says it has stopped raining, almost, so we will now go and do a bit more exploring and look for a non-posh place for dinner in nearby Chelsea. There are still plenty of them out there (diners that is....).

Stop press (Sunday):- Just back from a walk to Washington Square where the loons used to gather on a Sunday morning. A noted lack of loons, though there were one or two, but, on the way back, we were pleased to see the Stonewall bar is still going as is the big gay bar opposite. Also quite a sprinkling of regal young men, so all is not lost. Yet!

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Posted by Johnash 10:37 Archived in USA Comments (11)

Moving on again

Our tour of the Lakes comes to an end, regrettably

semi-overcast 66 °F

Room 821, Doubletree Hotel near O' Hare Airport
Tuesday, 15th May

Once again, I had to look at the calendar to see what day it was.

Time is short and I will have to be brief in this report back, I'm afraid (these words drowned out by sighs of relief by all and sundry. Who's this Sundry, by the way?).

What can we say? This mini trip has been full of surprises and we definitely want to come back for more of these wonderful lakes. Apart from our great time with our friends Linda & Ed, north of Northport, we were particularly taken by the stretch of Lake Superior from Saulte Ste Marie on. (By the way, we heard the Marie pronounced as in Mary. Not sure if that is how the locals call it?). That bit of the coast really was unspoiled and some of it was taken up by a Chippewa tribal reservation which was neat and tidy and which had much evidence, from the signs, of a caring society. We stopped at one lighthouse which was closed, but then, taking the dead end road to Whitefish Point, from Paradise where we stopped for a magnificent breakfast, we were relieved to find that the Shipwreck Museum was open. This opens one's eyes to the number of shipwrecks that have occurred on the lakes, in particular in the dangerous waters near this headland. In school geography lessons, staring at the atlas map of the Great Lakes, who could imagine that there would be 90mph winds and 27 ft high waves. Add to that congestion, shallows, incompetence & fog, and there is the recipe for many disasters.

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We were surprised to see ice still floating on the lake
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We thought this was some sort of platform in the lake. Now, looking at the close-up photo, it looks very much like part of a sunken vessel?
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Next were the Tahquemenon Falls on the river of that complicated name. There are the Upper and the Lower falls and we walked to both! Why is the water so dark? It's down to the tannin as a result of vegetation and silt etc.

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Bob takes over the driving from time to time
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We never did buy a pasty. We only saw two places selling them. Down to the Cornish miners who came here to mine copper, we think it was.
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Then on to our stop for the night, Gladstone, still in Michigan and looking across the top end of Green Bay (more correctly, Bay de Noc) to the Door Peninsula. Our stop for the following night.

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More of a motel type hotel. But we had a nice room with balcony overlooking the lake. Tranquillity apart from the blackbirds with a red flash on their side (Ed ??) arguing over territory. An excellent restaurant was part of the hotel and John tried the lake perch, as recommended by Ed. Bob chickened out with the chicken (in balsamic vinegar) which he said was delicious.

So it's now Sunday and we take the road south which gets busier as we approach Green Bay. The image in John's head of red-neck meatpackers, supporters of Green Bay NFL team, was not born out by what we saw of this city. A nicely preserved downtown as well as a pretty riverfront, and lots of big churches. There was, of course, old heavy industrial sites too but that somehow added to the charm.

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Then on to the Door Peninsula. This was quite New England-esque with its prim harbours and white-painted weatherboard houses. The hotel we'd chosen for the night was in the woods, set back from the lake. We somehow had a "room" with sitting area, dining area, full kitchen, bedroom plus another bedroom upstairs. It emerged we were the only ones staying there and had the place to ourselves for the night. We had a swim in the indoor pool and a soak in the hot tub. Dinner was down in the pretty village of Ephraim at the Chef's Hat where we had possibly one of the best dinners yet in a restaurant: brisket of beef over mashed red potatoes with a mushroom and bell pepper sauce. John had not had brisket since his Mum cooked it and it really was very good, and in a sensible portion size!

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Monday saw us driving back down the Peninsula, despite the Garmin taking us along a winding road hugging the coastline. We stopped for breakfast in a great little town called Kewaunee where Bob enjoyed delicious steak and eggs and toast and potatoes for a mere $7.95.

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Aha! The biggest grandfather clock in the world. At last!!
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Then on to be chivied along Interstate 43 nearly in to Milwaukee. We came off the clattering road (the surfaces on many Interstates are awful!) to drive round the bay front and were amazed at the number (many hundreds) of mansion-size houses cluttering the roads round the lake side. Who are all these people? Where do they get all this money?! We were amazed.

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Then in to Milwaukee city itself to find half the roads dug up and many closed as they install a new tram system. Oh dear, the road to the hotel is closed, but we keep going round the block until we find the place to stop for the Hilton Garden Inn valet parking. Hilton Garden Inns are slightly posher Hampton Inns, usually, but this one was set in a fabulously restored office building (originally a local insurance company) built in 1886. We were taken aback by this town. We liked it very much. We walked up the river walk to a German restaurant area and enjoyed Bratwurst with Sauerkraut etc etc.

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The next morning (this morning, Tuesday) we had time for another walk in the city centre, this time to the historic 3rd Ward district and its market, which was brilliant.

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Then time to get on the road again. We avoided the Interstate in to Chicago but found our road, US45 closed at one point. Diversions took us down some interesting county roads, crossing the border in to Illinois. As we approached the outer cities (called "villages"!) in the large, greater Chicago area, the traffic got heavier and commercial properties were much in evidence. Surprisingly, as we got closer to O' Hare airport the traffic got lighter. We're now set up in our hotel and we can see to our left in the distance the Chicago skyline plus a very big wood, and, to our right, the bustling runways of the airport.

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Tomorrow, early, we fly to New York. Thank you all for your support!

Update: Chicago has become much clearer as a slight fog cleared. You all know about New York so do we need a Blog? Well, we do have a couple of unusual things to do in that city so maybe a few lines would be appropriate? See you soon.......


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Posted by Johnash 18:49 Archived in USA Comments (10)

Trees, Water, Friends and Roadkill

A journey through Michigan

sunny 55 °F

Room 609, Ramada Ojibway Hotel, Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan
Friday 11th May

Have I got time to go into the history of the name of this place? Probably not but there is a much bigger version of this town, over the St Mary's River on the Canadian side. And it's pronounced Soo Saint Marie. French y'know, who were here first. Ojibway is another name for the Indian. peace-loving Chipewa tribe. At least, they were peace-loving until they got so fed up with being attacked by the most fearsome of the North American tribes, the Iroquois, that they fought back and cut off the heads of the tiresome Iroquois, and put them on posts along the river to warn anyone else against bullying them!

Where were we? Ah yes, on Monday, flying from Rapid City to Grand Rapids, a mere 883 miles as the crow flies but, as no crow was flying direct we had a long haul via Dallas and Charlotte with hours between flights (our choice). Up at 3 am, despite the fact the wake up call never materialised. An easy drive to a nice little airport and checked in by a friendly young man who was also at the gate later. He was concerned we were not sitting together on the two flights on regional jets. But I smilingly pointed out that Bob does not usually get the chance to get a window seat so we had deliberately chosen the front two single seats, one behind the other. He smiled and understood.

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Somehow we got TSA Precheck again. We thought new restrictions meant this "jump the queue and no need to take off your boots" privilege was no longer available to non-North American citizens. Who are we to argue?
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On two flights we had snacks and beverages served by good crews and on the flight from Dallas we had a pretty good meal served on china with metal cutlery etc etc. It seemed a long time waiting in the old fashioned and delightful lounge at Charlotte but the time did pass. However, Charlotte seems to be a rather disorganised airport as we had a long wait coming in to get to the gate and then a very long wait in line to take off.

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John's Spinach & Ricotta Pasta
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Bob's very tasty cheese plate. And yes, we've always had metal cutlery in Business/First. I guess the knives are pretty blunt!
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TWA Livery at Charlotte. No I don't think the plane had been waiting 17 years to take off! It's American Airlines tribute to some of its heritage airlines, ie those it swallowed up!
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The lovely lounge at Charlotte. This was US Airways old "Envoy" lounge
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Being a Southern airport, you get trees and rocking chairs in the terminal
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This was the angriest boarding of them all. John was first to go through but no one was scanning boarding passes so he politely waited. Some red faced grump wearing shorts and bright red legs pushed to the front and scanned his own boarding pass then pushed passed the gate agents. He was told to wait at the bottom of the ladder onto the plane. Amazingly he later apologised to John for pushing past.
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Wind forward to picking up the rental car at Grand Rapids. By which time it was 10pm and we were feeling rather tired, but not yet grumpy. John slipped across to the Hertz desk while Bob waited for our enormous bags. I got the key for our "Nissan Pathfinder in Bay B23". The procedure took about 30 seconds. When John got back to Bob, the bags were just clanking down onto the carousel and we were soon by the car, trying to unlock it. The remote only got it to toot but it refused to do anything else. John stood by the door and it unlocked. We got the luggage in and, just to make sure we could unlock it again, locked the car. But could we unlock it again? Of course not!

Back to the Hertz desk to ask Michael how to unlock the car. He came back to the car and he had no idea either. He was going to give us a different car when I pointed out our luggage was locked inside. Eventually, between us, we found a small button on the door handle and that did the trick. Now how to start it? Just a push button. The joys of modern inventions like keyless ignitions.

Once we had managed to get out of the car lot (missing the exit of course and having to reverse back) and on to strange roads, in the dark, in an unknown car with the Garmin Navigator still looking for satellites. But we did make it to the hotel without further incident. A Doubletree with which we were rather disappointed as it was a bit shabby and was in need of a brush up; at least our room did.

Next morning, thanks to Bob's Gold card, a good breakfast was included so we enjoyed that and got on the road, following the East shore of vast Lake Michigan towards north of Northport where we were going to stay with friends Ed and Linda. We stopped to take in sandy beaches and prim towns where "plenty of money" bought lovely houses overlooking the lake.

One thing we did both notice on these Michigan roads was the volume of roadkill by the roadside. This puzzled us as we really had seen very little on our previous drive (which totalled 3,409 miles by the way). Having discussed the subject with Ed and Linda we thought it could be due to the relatively high level of traffic, a high wildlife population and animals with little road sense.

We found Ed & Linda's beautiful house without problem thanks to the Garmin plus Linda's detailed instructions. Set down a track, deep in the woods, right on the lakeside, or rather the bayside as they are on Gt. Traverse Bay, on the East side of the Leelanau Peninsula which forms a finger out into massive Lake Michigan. Theirs is the last house before it becomes a state park so it really is on its own! A wonderful location.

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We took a short drive up into the State Park to admire the lighthouse there.

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A great dinner was cooked by Linda then next morning, a smashing breakfast accompanied by Ed's famous coffee. Our friends were then kind enough to show us most nooks, crannies, lakes, beaches, creeks, rivers, fishing villages, wineries and a cherry emporium, (where everything from jams and wines to salsas and cookies was made from cherries) which make up this fascinating peninsula. Yes, here they grow cherries, grapes as well as apples, so cider is also on hand for tasting too! What a day. Despite some rain in the afternoon, we had a really great time. A delicious dinner of grilled whitefish, caught that morning in the lake, finished off a perfect day. Thanks guys, so much!

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We waved a reluctant goodbye to Ed & Linda to find, as we emerged from the trees, that we had some perfect weather, with blue skies and a blue lake. Down to the bottom of the peninsula then up the other coast, glimpsing the lake from time to time with stops to view lighthouses etc as we travelled North. We'd pre-planned a stop at a funny little cafe for a very late breakfast (the second of the day!) then a final stop to gasp at the amazing Mackinac bridge which spans the water to the extremely remote and sparsely populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to our stop for 2 nights at "Soo".

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A great little hotel where we have a fab room on the top floor with a view to the famous locks which enable large ships to connect between Lakes Superior and Huron. A fascinating day going up the tower built by the neighbouring Catholic Church for some great views of the river, locks and, across the water, Canada.

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Then on to clamber all over the SS Valley Camp which has now been turned into a fascinating museum.

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We went on to join the queue to get on the Sugar Island Ferry but then decided if we took that over, then waited to come back, then got back to the "mainland" we may well have missed the next ship coming in to the locks. So we reluctantly skipped that little side trip.

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By keeping an eye on the "Find a Ship" app on our phone we were able to time our visit to the viewing platforms for the locks to watch a Canadian freighter creep into the locks and be raised the necessary 21 feet to be able to make it into Lake Superior. Locks such as these are operated and maintained by the US Corps of Engineers. From our observations, they seem to spend an awful lot of time driving around on small buggies, then driving back again! But I'm sure they really do do a grand job.

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Tomorrow we head, via some famous falls, down the other side of Lake Michigan, towards Wisconsin. Oh.... the parking meters: they're everywhere in this town. Even on vacant lots where we parked to go into our breakfast cafe. Next year, apparently, they plan to put them by traffic lights and you'll have to pay for a wait at red. Or maybe that's just a vicious rumour.




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Posted by Johnash 17:38 Archived in USA Comments (10)

Leaving our beloved West....

...but for pastures new round Lake Michigan!

semi-overcast 72 °F

Room 330, Hampton Inn, Rapid City, South Dakota
Sunday 6th May

Just checked in online for a long day of flying tomorrow. These are our award flights with American Airlines miles but a lot more of those miles were needed than our last trip to and from Alaska thanks to the airlines increasing meanness with award flights. This time it's a roundabout route from Rapid City to our new state on this trip: Michigan, where we fly in to Grand Rapids. We had the choice of short (like, 35 minute) connections, which would have made us anxious the whole time, or long (like, up to 3 hours) connection times, which is what we opted for. First back to Dallas/Fort Worth, then Charlotte, North Carolina, then from there into Grand Rapids. We have to get up at 3 am to catch the 6am flight out. And don't arrive in Grand Rapids until after 10pm. We will just sit back and enjoy it, as our award flights are in First Class, such as it is.

Yes, leaving our beloved "Out West" with its empty roads and vast expanses but for this new adventure, where we will be visiting with Ed & Linda who we met through friends John & Colette in Spain. They are putting up with us for 2 nights. More on that soon!

Back to Sheridan which we left early as we had a long drive that day, which was... er um.... Saturday (yesterday! It seems longer ago somehow). We started to see a little wildlife which had been sadly missing on this trip so far. First a couple of wild turkeys crossing the road (with Arthur shouting "bread sauce, bacon rolls, cranberry sauce, stuffing, chipolatas.... " out of the window!).

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We had found some lovely quiet roads through rich Wyoming farmland until we caught up with some tourists at holy (to native Americans) Devil's Tower. Though they would rather rename it (Arthur) Bear's Tower.

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It was certainly a spiritual place and on the way down, we stopped to admire the antics of a community of Prairie Dogs which, of course, are not dogs at all but rodents. Not sure what Sofi would have done with that lot!

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Then back to more empty roads on a loop into South Dakota and the famous gun slingin' town of Deadwood.

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On the way in we visited the impressive Mount Mariah Cemetery where lie Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, (who must be a candidate for Brenda's Sussex Sirens), not forgetting the infamous Potato Creek Johnny.

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It being Saturday we feared it would be overrun but no, it was really quite civilised and our hotel, also a casino, was formed as a Hampton Inn right at the end of the main street.

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We had as light a dinner as possible, rewarding ourselves with a delicious ice cream after (John's Pecan/Bourbon flavour was fab). We'd had a final go at Video Poker without great success but our stakes did last quite a long time. (As opposed to Arthur's steak, which didn't!)

Another early start on wet roads but we soon left any rain behind as we turned into Spearfish Canyon, which was very quiet, including a 10 mile gravel road,

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then up the magnificent Needles scenic byway where tiny tunnels are carved through giant boulders

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and finally on to the Custer State Park wildlife loop where we saw deer, bison (aka "buffalo") and burros which came up for a chat (thankfully no one was feeding them) until we finally got back into ranching territory on our way into the 2nd biggest city in South Dakota, Rapid City.

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We diverted to the airport in order to discuss the condition of the car with Hertz as they will not be open in the morning. We were left reassured that there "should" be no problems with the car bearing in mind the bangs and scrapes it had when we picked it up.

Unfortunately after 3 weeks of incident-free driving, John managed to scrape a wooden post as we were turning into a "drive-in" ATM in Deadwood. Gosh how I hate these things. Once we'd cleaned the red paint off, any damage was almost invisible and of no consequence according to the lovely Tim from the Hertz desk,

So apart from the "hiccup" in Las Vegas (would that had all it had been!!) and the Hiccup (Wild Bill) in Deadwood, our whole 3 week-long drive has been a great success and it has been lovely to share a little of it with you! But one last sad note. We'd noticed in most of the forests we have passed through, quite a lot of dead and dying trees. Earlier on, it had been due to a fungus that was attacking the pines. Here in the Black Hills, it is mainly Mountain Pine Beetle which is killing hundreds of thousands of trees. So many have died and so many more are turning the dreaded brown colour. Forestry authorities are trying to contain it but we fear with little success. So very sad.

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Posted by Johnash 18:17 Archived in USA Comments (13)

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