So We’re Home

New York City

A brief word about last night: We were land-side fairly quickly. The longest part in the process being the route march from the gate to the “UK Border”. Noticeable that there were no long lines for Americans and other “Tourists”. The process of a UK citizen (sorry, EU citizen) entering isn’t quite the nod it used to be either. The agent I got wasn’t quite as surly as his US counterpart, but I reckon he’d been taking lessons – barely a grunt in response to my Good Evening. Oh well.

 

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Wouldn’t Ya Know It

Homeward bound.

Last night I listed the various things which I was concerned could go wrong and delay us getting to the departure gate. Consequently we allowed plants of time including a stupidly early alarm of 04:15. It almost goes without saying that everything went swimmingly.

Traffic on I678 was fairly heavy the nearer we got to the airport – evidently JFK has its own rush hour. I guess a fair number of staff work here. Even so, we found the Hertz return without a problem and sailed straight in. Drop off went smoothly and, rather than a van, connection to the terminals is via the free AirTrain.

A slight queue was beginning to form at Bag Drop, but again we were done in minutes. Same with security, maybe ten minutes in total. All-in-all, we were at the gate with around two hours to spare. Oh well.

Neither of us were particularly hungry. I’d finished off some chewy cookies rather than pack them (that’s my excuse). May not be a nutritional breakfast, but hey… The gate area filled up slowly but surely – the aircraft (Airbus A340-300 G-VSUN – Rainbow Lady) already on stand, presumably having flown in last night. About 07:00 the crew boarded but it wasn’t until 08:05 that passenger boarding began. Even so, we pushed back only two minutes late at 08:42 and were wheels up at 09:06 with 203 pax and 14 crew.

Later

The pilot, whose name I didn’t catch when he did the PA announcement (but the First Officer was Craig Jones), certAinly managed to find some bumpy bits of sky, on a couple of occasions. To the extent that we owners rattling about a bit later in the flight but it evidently wasn’t worthy of bothering with the seatbelt signs. On a slightly serious note, the first bit clearly put the food service schedule back a bit. Breakfast (first time I’ve had a “Full English” on a flight!) was served as we left the US and a “lunch” (beef stew) in mid-Atlantic. The flight is far from full (I see seven empty seats in PE) so the service wasn’t hectic.

Entertainment-wise, I watched Argo to see what all the fuss is about. Entertaining, yes, but I suspect it garnered such critical approval as “Hollywood” has a starring role. After lunch I watched an episode of”Veeps”, a series I hadn’t previously come across and two episodes of Two and a Half Men. Kay watched a couple of films I’ve never heard of!

We’re descending now and the cabin is being secured. It’s getting dark outside, a factor of UK still being on “winter” time! We’re told it’s 13deg. C outside, but I’ll believe that when I feel it!

….and we’ve landed

More later.

They Think It’s All Over

Tanger Mall proved to be a big hit with several stores benefiting from our collective largess. I won’t go into detail as some of the purchases are gifts. In total we were there best part of four hours, and while Kay was scouting the shops, I researched other options for visiting in the area. Turns out there’s a Barnes and Noble at Plainview, not too far to the south. My comments from the other day notwithstanding, it was enjoyable to browse and we bought a few bits here – as well as just one more coffee!

It’s about an hour back to the hotel according to Apple maps and although a slightly more direct route is available back along the LIE (I495), we chose the Southern State Parkway. This is an odd road, in that it is three lanes in each direction, but most of the over-bridges are incredibly low – usually about 10′ but at least one which was seven feet something! Therefore no commercial traffic whatsoever uses it. That was perhaps as well, as given it was the evening rush, there was plenty of car traffic using it. Even so, other than a slight delay around Hempstead, and again as we turned north on the Cross Island Parkway, it moved well enough.

Apple maps served us well and guided us straight to the Fairfield inn at Flushing. Turns out it isn’t the hotel I thought it was (i.e. one I stopped at with Nick some time ago). Nevertheless, it is fine for what it is – five minutes from LaGuardia and 15 minutes from JFK. It’s an industrial area and of course it was dark when we arrived. Our room is comfortable enough, though not surprisingly much smaller than we’ve been used to these last six nights. Free WiFi in the room is a bonus though.

We debated our options for an evening meal, even contemplating using the microwave in the room for the frozen dinners sold in reception, or ordering from the take out menu helpfully left in the room. In the end we decided to take advantage of having a car and drove south along College Point Blvd into Flushing itself, in search of something. We turned into the Sky View Mall’s garage (free parking for three hours – always a bonus). They had several options for dining, including several Japanese places as there is a strong oriental influence in this neighbourhood. However, the one which suited us best was Applebees – again. 

There were several differences from our Monday evening experience. Chief among them was the fact that we had an appetiser, entree and drink for less than $30 all in! The other difference was the lack of haste to get us in an out that was evident in Times Square – though in some ways this worked against us as the service was painfully slow at times. Both the New York Nicks and The Brooklyn Nets are in action tonight (basketball!) and the screens were showing both games. The tv I could see best, however, was showing the MLB channel with Kevin Millar (ex of the Red Sox) fronting a baseball ‘blooper’ show. Even without sound, some of the clips were pretty funny. As well as  being much better value, the food was pretty good quality too, and we each enjoyed our steak (me) and Bourbon glazed chicken & shrimp (Kay, but you guessed that!?).

On the way back, ostensibly to save time in the morning, I brimmed the tank on the car. This turned out to be far more of a saga than it needed to be due to the cashier’s insistence that I prepay and the pump not recognising a UK credit card (it needed a zip code to pre-authoirise and the usual 00000 didn’t work). I ended up putting $16.40’s worth in, having driven about 100 miles today. back at the hotel, we’d lost our spot in the car park, so the car is out on the street. Hopefully it’ll still be there in the morning.

It’s a 08:40 flight, but there are several variables – notably getting the car back and how long the Hertz shuttle will take to get us to International Departures. We’ve checked-in on line, but bag drop and getting through security are also unknown quantities. Oh, and the television is talking about a dusting of snow in the morning.

Real America

Before we get into the detail of Wednesday, it’s worth scribbling a few lines about how Tuesday finished off. Having returned to the room to drop bags and recharge a while (no, not really a euphemism), we went off in search of an evening meal. For the first time of the entire week’s stay, we went west from the hotel, onto Eighth Avenue. This area is an uncomfortable mix of Broadway theatres with some high profile productions, and sleazy adult stores and dive bars – though by all accounts, not nearly as sleazy as it once was. Of course, that’s makes for an interesting mix of humanity.

We looked in the windows of a number of foody places, all of which were either too expensive or too cheap. A bit like Goldilocks, we were looking for a place which was just right. Truth be told, we never really found it (a good old fashioned diner would have been ideal). So we ended up in a deli and ordered ‘gourmet deluxe’ sandwiches. Except, of course, they were neither. We both opted for Number 54 – the hot roast beef, but when the guy serving us intimated in his dialect of American that in order to make it hot, he was going to use the gravy from some meatballs which were part of the help-your-self section, we agreed cold beef was good. To be fair, what we ended up with was good and very generously stuffed. Just not quite what we’d planned. Oh well.

The same place provided room supplies, including Sam Adams Boston Ale and a beer called Amber Ale from a brewery I now forget (and neglected to photograph the label as a memento, as I had intended).

It was 20:30 as we got back to the hotel. We did debate going to the lounge for a beer and keep the bottles for tomorrow, but Kay’s casting vote was for the room. Not being that inclined to sit in the lounge by myself, the bottles sufficed. CBS kept us entertained with NCIS, both the original version and the LA spin off, followed by a New York cop series called Golden Boy .

Today

An unintended eary start with both of us beating the alarm to some tune. Bags packed and administrative niceties taken care of, we adjourned to the lobby for coffee and free WiFi – and to let the morning rush subside (or so I hoped). Then the short wobble with the bags to the Hertz kiosk inside a parking garage. This is actually well organised. A video chat with a Hertz agent, a scan of the credit card, driving licence held up to the camera and a little Chevy
Sonic appeared. Connecticut plates, 561ZVO with 436 miles. Let the, er, fun begin.

I’ve previously driven across Manhattan with Nick, albeit unintentionally as we missed an exit on the Interstate. That was a Sunday and the route was pretty much straight west to east where the I495 crosses Manhattan between the Lincoln Tunnel and the Midtown Tunnel. This time, there was a route to follow. Despite what I typed last night, I decided to follow Google’s directions, which were; Eighth Ave, turn left 42nd St, turn right Second Ave (so far, so stressfully good), then turn left into the Midtown Tunnel. In true US tradition, a driver gets about ten yards warning of the turn into the tunnel, by which time if you’re not in the left two lanes (I was in the centre of five, not knowing when the turn was due) you’re out of luck as bollards separate the lanes. I was out of luck. OK, turn right three times and we’re sorted, right? No. A traffic warden was waving her arms at the next junction to tell me I wasn’t turning right. A couple more blocks and some lane weaving (a delivery truck double parked), and we were there. Through the Midtown tunnel, $7.50 lighter for the toll, and we were cruising east on I495, the Long Island Expressway.

The LIE is of course ironically named. Even though it was after the rush, and we were heading out of the city, it frequently ground to a brief halt, before picking up to 60mph again. Typical freeway driving, I guess, but definately not “express”. We kept on the I495 until we started seeing greenery and exited the Interstate, almost at random. We found ourselves in an expensive looking village called Albertson. Then, very much by accident, on Rt 25 – the perfect “B road” to use UK terminology. We stopped at a 7-Eleven for a snack and cold drink (and to have a good look at the car and its radio etc. for the first time), before continuing on Rt.25.

This took us past the delightfully named Hicksville and Muttontown to Syosset and Woodbury. There we managed to get some WiFi, courtesy of a SBs and set course for our intended destination of Tangers Outlet Mall. As it turned out, again very much by luck than judgement, we were pretty much on the right road. The advantage of being off the Interstate is of course that we get to see a lot more of ‘real America’.

Tangers Mall is in the township of Deer Park. It is a very spread-out, open air mall — McArthur Glenn on a steroids. It’s a lovely sunny day with blue skies and we opted to leave our coats in the car – a borderline foolish decision. Each shop we’ve been in has felt a lot warmer than outside, put it that way.

Lunch was provided by Johnny Rockets – which was empty when we entered just before Noon, but very quickly filled up. A meal which I reckon would have cost us well over $50 in Times Square was $30 with tip. Again, welcome to real America. After lunch, Kay has set off armed with the mall guide, her targets underlined in a manner worthy of a military operation. In the same spirit, I have set up headquarters in — wait for it — Starbucks. Free WiFi remember!

[No photos in this update – typed on my iPad and I’ve not downloaded my camera yet today]

OK, just this one taken on my iPad inside Starbucks at Tangers Mall…

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And this view out the window….

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Improving Situation

My missing girlfriend eventually turned up, empty handed as it turned out. My opinion was sought in respect of a couple of garments, and apparently a “idunno” accompanied with a shrug of the shoulders is not an acceptable answer. So while Macy’s didn’t benefit from the Tidey dollar, a return visit to JCPenny resulted in a couple of tops being destined for a trans-Atlantic journey.

By the time we exited JCP, back onto Ave of the Americas, the weather had completely changed. The rain had stopped and the sun was struggling out but the scaffolding fronting many buildings in New York  continued to provide their own showers for unwary pedestrians. As Chappers has kindly commented, the only issue with the weather was our ill-preparedness for it (though, To Be Fair) I’m not sure a brace of umbrellas and polar gear are quite what you’d expect to pack for a holiday?

Wet New York

Our next designation was the Fashion Institute of Technology on Seventh Avenue at 27th Street, a few blocks’ walk to the south. Here the is a museum which has been high on Miss T’s wish list of destinations. Frankly, we were both a little disappointed. The museum is free, which is a bonus, and consists of three separate exhibitions; ‘textiles and technology’, ‘obsession with shoes’ and one which was supposed to be a showcase for the graduating class of FIT – except that it wasn’t. What was there was interesting – at least for Kay and wasn’t terrible for me – but there wasn’t much of it. There wasn’t even a gift shop to exit through, to paraphrase Banksy.

The upshot of this was that it left us with quite a bit more of the afternoon at our disposal than we were budgeting for. The impromptu plan, therefore was to jump on the nearby 1 train and head further south to Houston Street (pronounced by the MTA announcers as though there’s an E in the name – “House ton”). Ascending to street level I feared the worst as looking in all four directions there wasn’t a lot which looked appealing. Almost at random we headed toward the big buildings in the distance, and it turned out we were heading south along Varick Street. Beyond Canal Street we were in Tribeca (TRIangle BElow CAnal Street) and the outlook improved.

Tribeca

We visited the Magazine Bazaar, mainly for their restroom and a cold drink before continuing past the Ghostbusters firehouse (without realising what it was until later!) and into a coffee shop called Pican. This provided a welcome sit down and the opportunity to observe the local wildlife at arm’s length for a while.

Onwards, we completed out own little Triangle Below Canal Street, by heading over to Broadway and retracing our steps (in reverse) from the last visit. This part of Broadway has quite a few interesting nicknack shops, aimed at tourists, but not nearly as tacky as those around Times Square. There also seems to be an inordinate amount of shoe shops there for some reason. On reaching Canal Street we descended into the subway once more and returned north on the R train, deliberately overshooting our “regular” station as far as 57th Street, for the sake of walking back on ‘new’ ground. By late afternoon, by stark contrast with this morning, it was a beautiful sunny day.

Sunshine!

Although our mega-breakfast had avoided the need for lunch, a sugar fix was now called for and we gave our patronage to Europa Cafe for a slice of strawberry cake (Kay) and an orange cranberry muffin for me. From there, almost back at the hotel, we split up briefly. While Kay went nicknack shopping (if you pardon the expression) I went to recce the Hertz car park for tomorrow morning. It is certainly convenient for the hotel, but the route out of there is going to be an interesting drive; left onto Seventh Ave, through Times Square, to 34th Street, left at Madison Square Garden, past Macy’s and across to the Midtown Tunnel. Kindly warn the pedestrians of New York that, like Moses, I expect parting of the waves!