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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

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Comments

Fascinating reading so glad you arrived safely. Arthur looked as though he had put on a little weight. Thank you for the pictures and travel experience. Glad you are back.xx

by jean

Great Blog!

by anne busch

Glad you're all safely home from another set of great American adventures. Thoroughly enjoyed travelling with you through the 2018 Blog & looking forward to your plans for USA 2020!

by Ian T.

Wonderful wrap-up to a great travelogue! Glad that you are already thinking about the 2020 adventure. Didn't hear much about Arthur on this trip. Please remind me how many trips he has accompanied you on. He looks like he's made a few!
Enjoy being back at home!

by Linda

Those chandeliers are a tad to modern for my liking! Fascinating final blog, love your travel tips and the new wash bag, so right about the hooks! Thanks for keeping the blog up, really enjoyed reading it all. Here's to 2020 x

by Paul king

In a way it is sad that you are home because we won't be getting any more fantastic photos.

by Rick and Terry

Enjoyed all blogs good luck for 2020. Your tales of delays remind us of our train confusion due to a new time table.

by Brien kessler

Almost missed the final instalment! It's been a fabulous trip. Thanks for taking us with you, we've enjoyed it all. Glad you're home safe and sound and very pleased to hear you're already thinking about the next trip xx

by Sue and Gordon

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