Week 690

Sunday, 13th March, 2022

Bit of a shock this morning. We were out at the old 6.00 am (FT) now 7.00 am (FT) because the clocks had gone forward two weeks before the UK. It was a bit chilly as we walked to the gym. Two hours later, I returned for coffee and the Sunday Times on my iPad. I sat with my leg up with an ice pack for a chunk of the day watching a couple of Premier League matches – Chelsea v Newcastle and Arsenal v Leicester. I enjoyed it.

We are going out for yet another meal and then, when we get home, I will ‘check-in’ on the JetBlue app for our flight to New York tomorrow. We leave from Sarasota airport in the evening and get to JFK International at 9.00 pm.

New York Central Station

I’ve got a list of places I want to visit from Times Square where we are staying. I am not a tourist and refuse to do all the must-see sights. I want to soak up the atmosphere and understand the people and their culture. I want to visit Little Italy and China Town along with Central StationGround Zero, etc.

Pier22 restaurant

We ate out again tonight at a dockside restaurant called Pier22. We ate pleasant fish and vegetables although it got quite chilly as the evening went on. Leaving for the airport mid-afternoon tomorrow. M&K have kindly offered to drive us there. We probably won’t get into our hotel in Times Square until 10.00 pm (FT)/4.00 am (GMT).

Monday, 14th March, 2022

This is going to be quite moving day. Well, we are flying to New York from Sarasota am (FT), out to the gym for 2hrs work. Back for coffee and then a 30 mins swim. Packing for colder weather in NY. Doing on-line Check-in; making sure our smartphones have pdfs of our Boarding Passes and asking M to print a hard copy for backup. Making sure everything is charged up and that we have all the required chargers packed.

We only have one check-in bag for the time we are there and carry-on luggage. M&K will drop us at the Main Terminal. Looking forward to exploring it.

These are all firsts which, at the age of 70, is quite nice. It will be our first flight on a JetBlue plane.

Amazing to think this internal flight is 3hrs or longer than to Italy or Spain from London. We are told there is little ceremony and internal flights are so commonplace here that they are treated like bus journeys.

Tuesday, 15th March, 2022

Yesterday was one of the more bizarre travelling days we’ve had for a while. M&K dropped us at the airport just after 3.00 pm as we requested. We were supposed to be flying at 6.00 pm on a 3hr flight to New York. Almost immediately, we found that there would be a delay of just under an hour. Not a problem. We were in a new and interesting airport. However, as 6.00 pm stretched to 8.00 pm, it was becoming a bit tedious.

We boarded at 8.00 pm but were told that we couldn’t use the ’bathroom’ because they were waiting for a spare part to fix it. It would be about 30 mins. That 30 mins sitting on the plane stretched to an hour and then 2 hrs before we took off around 10.00 pm just 4 hrs late. We landed in JFK at around 20 mins after midnight around 9 hrs after we started.

Our bag came off quickly and we set off to find a yellow cab. We were allocated one, gave the driver the name and address of our hotel in Times Square and asked for a price. It was exactly what we had researched at $52.00 + $3.00 taxes. The driver was a Greek Cypriot with family in Brighton, West Sussex. He said he’d been driving in the New York for many years and we settled back to enjoy our introduction to the city.

Things took a slightly weird turn as Andreas started telling us about his two wives and how he had recently hired two prostitutes who had robbed him of his money. He seemed to be struggling to find our well known hotel. Anyway, we did eventually get there and Andreas proudly announced it was only 1.00 am. He was a bit shocked when I pointed out that it was actually 2.00 am. He had forgotten that clocks went forward on Sunday.

We paid him $70.00 and checked in to our Hotel. The Suite with a terrace is pleasant but not huge and the lights from the buildings around are like Blackpool on steroids!

Anyway, this morning is a beautiful day. The weather is warm and sunny so we’ve probably brought a lot of unnecessary clothes. We have been down to get a ’Grab & Go’ breakfast and there is a ’free’ (We like that!”) acclimatisation, 2hr walking tour that the hotel offers and we are going with that this morning. Sending our love to all our readers from the Big Apple. Let you know later how it goes.

I’m not really a fan of these organised ’walks’ but it was extremely useful and a quick orientation to the place and its history.

We – 8 of us including 3 American women, a Glaswegian couple and our tour guide – walked around Times Square, learning about how the block road/property system made getting around easy and quite a bit of the history of its development. We moved on to the Rockfeller Plaza and the United Nations principles of its founder which became wrapped up in Capitalism and Communism as competing ideologies.

Rockefeller Plaza

Everything about this area makes it difficult to photograph. I went dizzy just trying. You can see the need to build upwards rather than outwards because of the premium on footprint but the multi million dollar apartments on the 26th floors of some of the buildings would give me nightmares. Just think of the danger of fires!

We broke the rules of the past decade and ate PIZZA today. After all that walking and fresh car fumes, we were starving. We found a little Italian sandwich shop which made huge, fresh pizzas with about 20 different toppings just as we’d buy in Italy as we travelled through. We bought 3 slices and shared them for Lunch and they were delicious but sinful and filling.

It has been a lovely day after only about 4 hours sleep. Our first day in New York will never be forgotten like so many wonderful experiences of our lives. A wise person once said that you never forget two things – your first love and your first day in New York City. Well our introduction to this city will linger long in my memory even over the delights of Mary with the long, blonde hair.

Wednesday, 16th March, 2022

A long, hot and tiring day but very rewarding. Against all my usual instincts, we’ve done the tourist thing.

  1. Breakfast in the Art Deco Diner of our 1930s Edison Hotel which was lit and opened by Thomas Edison of light bulb invention fame. Our hotel, which was extensively used in Sex in the City, has proved a good choice

2. Visit Grand Central Station which is still a fantastic structure although the pandemic has rather hollowed out many of the more interesting traders especially the food ones.

3. On to the Empire State Building which was closed to visitors until afternoon. I didn’t want to go up there anyway.

4. We walked around Macy’s but, like so many other Department Stores, it looked a bit seedy and fraying at the edges. We weren’t there long.

Clothes Shopping kills me more than any other activity in the world. We returned to our hotel for coffee and to watch a download of Prime Minister’s Questions. Refreshed by a dose of politics, we went out to walk down to the Hudson River in the most beautiful and warm Spring sunshine. 

Although I have done almost my entire fitness commitment for the day, I’ve spent a short while in the gym to top it up and wind down. Kevin has been communicating with me about watching Huddersfield Town v Milwall and bemoaning finally losing just as we were going out to eat at a lovely Italian restaurant we had found during our walks.

I’m really enjoying talking to and being involved in the lives of old friends. I’m not sure why but it has a sort of pleasing circularity for me as I renew old relationships. Julie contacted me this morning to ask how our trip was doing and to share a new print she was working on. She is redesigning her conservatory with light and a large table to do her art work on. I like to know this sort of detail about people. It really helps me to understand them and most feel quite happy to share it.

Thursday, 17th March, 2022

Glad we filled the past two days with so much because today has been wet. I had no idea that we had booked St Patrick Day’s celebration week but Manhattan has gone mad. There are Americans dressed as their Irish ancestors everywhere. The bars, restaurants and hotels are overflowing with ’green people’.

After an hour in the gym, we went out to 5th Avenue t0 watch the procession. Actually, the city police have kept everyone at quite a distance. I had to take photographs over the heads of the drunken crowds.

Couldn’t put up with this for long!

New York television has been making much of the fact that human connections have been severely disrupted by the pandemic. People have craved human connection and the Irish, in particular, have been desperate to reconnect. I know what they mean. I have been hugely lifted by reconnection with my past and with members of my friends and family who I have been distant from for so long. I hope they are reading this. I would like to think Jane is reading this and understands.

As I sit here in my hotel suite in Times Square, New York, writing my Blog and feeling strangely sad, I have just been contacted by an Oldham lad who was born in the year I started teaching. He is 50 this year and addresses me as ‘Sir’. Mind you, I insist my wife does as well. The internet is the most wonderful thing. We should never be afraid of it but embrace and exploit its ability to bring us together. Looking forward to a trip back to the North of England to meet up with friends and relatives just as much as I can’t wait to revisit France and Greece this summer.

Too late, we found that friends of ours from over 40years ago were staying a couple of streets away having arrived in New York last night and Pauline was trying to contact her relative who we both taught many years ago and who has lived in Boston for years. Actually, we are resolved to revisit my boyhood friend in Boston, Massachusetts and her relative next time we are here.

Friday, 18th March, 2022

Up early on a day that is sunny and bright. New Yorkers are celebrating the prediction that they will beat 70F/22C today. How unlucky were the Irish yesterday? These buildings, waking to a bright sun today, were shrouded in fine rain and mist yesterday. We are flying back to sunny Florida and a temperature of 30C/86F this morning. I’ve been in the hotel gym for a couple of hours between 6.00 – 8.00 am and had breakfast while Pauline packed. Instead of a mad, Greek taxi driver, we will be taken to the airport by the hotel shuttle which will cost half the price and take less than half the time.

Actually, the shuttle driver turned out to be a mad ’hippy’ who thought he was a comedian. His driving certainly suited him to it. Anyway, we were at JFK airport, Terminal 5 (internal flights) by 12.oo pm with 2hrs before our flight ….. except, once again, it wasn’t. As we dropped off our bags and went ’airside’, my JetBlue app messaged me with a 50 mins delay. We decided to have a drink at one of the many outlets in this one of 8 different vast terminals. As we sat down, my app informed me of a second delay of an hour +and we now know that we will be more than 3 hrs late.

Passing the time – Terminal 5 at JFK

We decided to have a meal and, just as in France, this most ordinary and commercial of outlets produced the most lovely meal. We shared a mixed-leaf salad with olives and feta cheese followed by pan-fried salmon with grilled vegetables. It was lovely. I am still there, with a cup of coffee and my iPad, writing up my Blog.

You couldn’t invent the next bit. Delay built on delay. Excuse built on excuse. We were told that the crew couldn’t be found, Air Traffic Control had forbidden take-off, a rocket had fallen on Sarasota Airport. Eventually, 2.00 pm became 7.30 pm and we took off. We landed in Sarasota by 10.30 pm. We waited a further hour for our baggage and long suffering M&K met us at the airport. By 11.30 pm, we were drinking red wine with cheese. Just right for bedtime.

Saturday, 19th March, 2022

We weren’t in bed until 2.00 am and the alarm went off at 5.55 am. Out to the gym at 6.55 am. Because of the hour forward, it was still dark and moonlit and very warm – 22C/70F. As we flew back from JFK to Sarasota last night, I vainly tried to photograph the full moon through the window.

As I walked to the gym this morning that same moon was shining down through the palm trees and over the pool. The sky was dark but cloudless.

I did a couple of hours in the gym and felt really tired after it. It’s not surprising, I suppose, after a hard week and little sleep. Even so, we have quite a busy day ahead. We are going to see the new house that M&K are buying, followed by a trip to see Dan’s University which he will attend after the Summer. Finally, we will go out to eat.

Kevin, who is heavily into Fine Art, sent me this over Whatsapp yesterday. He’s a happy, little chap. Certainly, flying between Florida – New York and back highlighted the mask use in America. Florida is very relaxed with fairly low observance whereas New York is the opposite probably because of the density of population. All airports and public transport demanded complete compliance on the pain of being stopped from travelling at all.

M&K drove us out to see their new, Winter home that they have just bought. It is in lovely, open countryside and has extensive grounds as well as a huge number of huge rooms. They are going to be very happy there and have very kindly extended an open invitation to us. I have a feeling they may regret that!

Dan and his American girlfriend, Babs, drove us over to St Leo’s University where he will be for the next 4 years studying Tennis & Business. It is the most incredible quality life compared with the sort of thing we experienced in the late 1960s/ early 1970s. He is very lucky to be born now and have the opportunity.

We drove on this evening to St Petersburgh and ate a lovely Italian meal and then walked in 80F/27C down the St Petersburgh Pier where all sorts of music was being played. It was a lovely end to a busy, tiring but lovely day. We have been up for 18hrs after just 4 hrs sleep but we are retired and have no time to waste. I hope you agree.

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