Thursday, June 23, 2011

New York - Part Two

So. My phone is lost. I completely turned my hotel upside down to see if it was in the room somewhere. But no win. I'm VERY annoyed at myself. Nothing that a drink won't fix though :)  

A short stiff drink to keep the hangover at bay and I soon head out for lunch with Parg & Co but with no phone I wasn't able to locate them when i got to the restaurant. I walked up and down several times. So I sat down and had a drink at the bar while going through my (now vital) printed out maps and planned the rest of my holiday hoping Parg & Co turned up soon. 

The barman is from Leeds so he helped pass the time. Nearly an hour goes by and i decide to give up. I pay the bill and out of nowhere Parg pops up behind me saying they'd been at the back of the restaurant all along WTF. Don't know how i missed them. 

After a lovely cheese toasted sandwich and a cocktail I headed off to try and find the World Naked Bike Ride event being held in major cities around the world simultaneously. I had been to the London one a few years earlier and it was a great laugh (see blog post from 2009). Unfortunately i never found this event and blindly walked around for ages stopping off for drinks occasionally. I later found out when I was back in London that it was cancelled due to rain being forecast.

I took the subway down to Wall St to have a browse around there. Their subway system is not too different to ours. But the trains are bigger and air conditioned. Less frequent though, and not as comfortable inside with hard plastic seats. Only a few stations have a board up with the train arrival times which was frustrating, but they were reasonably frequent, no more than 10 mins waiting. I’d been on the subway on Friday rush hour too, and it was nowhere near as packed as it gets in London. Instead of names for their lines, they are labelled a number or letter. A very simple subway system to understand.

Interestingly, their turnstiles (ticket barriers) go both ways at all times. You can imagine that would be a problem during rush hour with two people both going at the same turnstile.

Saturday night i met up with Parg & Co again in a little bar called The Magician where we noticed Mike Myers! Aka Austin Powers. Im a huge fan so i stared  at him and his table a bit. We left soon after and i waved at him as we went past, getting a wave back.


By now i was feeling absolutely fucked. Three nights of heavy ish drinking, along with light day time drinking to ward off each daily hangover had now caught up. Hands shaking. Dodgy stomach. I was actually limping too cos of all the walking (probably about 5 miles of walking per day). I couldn’t even eat cos of the nausea. I was quite the state!  But the show had to go on and me and Parg headed up to the Bronx for the zoo there. I was so tempted to have more drink to sort me out but i had to stop at some point or i might have spontaneously combusted.

The zoo wasn’t as good as i expected. You had to really wait around for the good animals as they were quite in the distance or hidden in their caves or something. 



After the zoo we headed to Times Square which is pretty much Picadilly Circus + Leicester Square multiplied by 10. Not suitable for epileptics.

Got back to the hotel early evening and just lay in bed, falling in and out of sleep all night with the TV on letting the body recover from 4 days of physical and mental punishment.


Fresh and rehabilitated, I was resurrected like Christ himself for the final day. Started off with the Guggenheim Musuem which was thoroughly disappointing as nearly all of it was shut. No idea why. Stunning building though. 

One room was cool though, the wallpaper was made up of wads of 1 dollar bills. Each wad must have been about 20 dollars. I couldn’t even guess how much money the whole room contained. (Cameras weren’t allowed so i got this image from Google).

A quick google search tells me $100’000 !!! Holy moly!!  It says some dude one an art prize for something, along with that $100k. He decided to create his next piece using that money. Im not that arty myself but it was quite amazing to see that room. Wouldn't you love to set that room on fire?

I then headed off to Central Park along the huge lake. Full of joggers! Not a fatty in sight. It’s a beautiful park. Absolutely amazing amongst such a busy city. Its wonderful how they’ve preserved this huge park in such a busy city. I was very impressed with the amount of open and green spaces within Manhattan, whether its just small (yet beautiful) parks, dog parks, or kids parks with swings etc. London is embarrassing in comparison. London is the true concrete jungle. And not in a good way.

The Speedboat tour was next. I was really looking forward to this and it completely excelled my expectations. Absolutely thrilling! It went up to 45mph at times, throwing you left and right and up and down giving you that butterflies in your stomach feeling. Water occasionally splashed from the sides on to everyone.

One of my favourite photos from the speedboat:

I had 2 more hours left before i had to be at the hotel to be picked up by a shared taxi to head back to London. I walked around closer to the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, which is pretty much just a giant aircraft carrier with a Concorde as one of its exhibits. Didn’t go in though cos of queues.

Saw this lovely fountain there, quite similar to the one outside the O2 in Greenwich. It danced around inviting kids to jump in and run after it. It gave me a chance to play around with the camera settings before deciding to stop as there were too many semi-clad kids in the fountain and i probably started looking like a paedo. 
Back to the hotel i went. I love this thing under the bed:


The taxi driver was a cunt. Moody. Easily irritated. Drove like a maniac too. He'd cut people up and then smile. He'd barely respond if you asked him something and tut at times. Big black fella though so you certainly didn't wanna mess with him. At the end, he got our luggage out of the back for us, and he's like "Where's my tip??" to all of us. HAHA. I'd heard about people like this how they demand a tip. I gave him $3 to the bastard, which was about 12% (15-20% is usually the accepted rate), to avoid getting my suitcase thrown on to the main road. Not sure what the other's gave.

I was aching all over by the time i got to the airport. And there was 3 hours left til take off. Nowhere to even sit!! Had a bit of food to kill some time, then noticed a Spa place and got myself the most orgasmic 30 min foot and leg massage. They lay you down on this amazing massage chair which does your whole back and neck area, whilst some chinese woman did my legs/feet.  My feet sooooooo needed that. I came out completely revitalised.

When i got home, i remember i had all these google location services activated during my trip so i checked out my history and was amazed how much it had logged my location:

From that i was able to deduce i had left my phone in the taxi when it dropped me off to the karaoke bar on Friday evening as the trail showed me getting to the area where the bar was, then going back down south.

I got the shock of my life on the last day at the hotel. The bill. Which had the cost of the phone calls i had made to my mobile (where it went to voicemail). $15 per call WTF. That's around £9. I had made around 10 calls in total over 3 days hoping someone would turn it on and i could contact them.

Ah well. NYC done.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

New York - Part One

MY FIRST EVER SOLO HOLIDAY! And, apart from India (which kind of doesn’t count), only my 3rd ever holiday. Shocking much? I expected to learn a lot, and, from a person who has previously lost his whole families passports a month before a holiday or who has previously dropped his spectacles in the toilet, I expected a fuck up or two.

I had a 10.30am flight so i planned to wake at 4am, leave by 6am, get to Heathrow at 8am, drop baggage off, then meet a friend at Heathrow who works there (hello Arvind!).

It wasn't the best of starts. I ended up sleeping at 2am as i was doing last minute minor planning like printing out maps and addresses and so on. You will later see why these were a life-saver.

My momma woke me up in a panic “Are you late? ARE YOU LATE!?” (in Gujarati).  I looked at the clock and it was nearly 5am. My phone alarm hadn’t gone off for some reason. I fucked that up.

It was okay though. I still had plenty of time. Just not enough to double check i hadn’t fucked anything else up before leaving. Apart from my passport. I triple-checked i had that. I left a little after 6am, and arrived at the airport 8.15am. Called my friend and he said to drop baggage and then call him back after i’m more in to the airport.

I dropped baggage off, carried on in to the airport, went through security in to duty-free and then called him back.

Him: “You've gone in too far! I can’t get through to that area!”.

Whoops. I fucked up. Oh well, I had a browse around duty free. Needed a wallet actually as mine was an embarrassment. Saw a few nice ones but didn't quite have the gazillion pounds required. Off to the plane i went.

I had checked-in online the previous day but all the window seats were taken. Booo. So i just chose a seat near the front close to the aisle and in view of the toilets so there’s easy access. The front row itself was already taken. I realised why when i went to sit down. FULL OF PARENTS WITH MULTIPLE BABIES.

WAAAAAAAAA WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA all through the bloody flight!!

I fucked up!

I also developed a nasty headache soon after taking off, which is probably due to the changing pressure. It’s happened before. But I had enough pain killers in my hand luggage that i was surprised security didnt question me. Along with caffiene tablets and piriton.

The in-flight entertainment on Virgin was fantastic. So many choices of the latest films and shows. I watched some Family Guy, Friends, and Peep Show in between trying to sleep. The noise cancelling headphones did a fantastic job of drowning out the waa waa’s. But then you couldnt hear the air hostesses as they walked through offering something every fucking half hour.

"No i don’t want tea!"
"No i don’t want coffee!"
"No i don’t want a bag of nuts!"
"No i … oooh wait, mini-pretzels? Actually i’ll try those."

I was a bit peckish and have no snacks on me. I’d never had pretzels so i was hoping i’d liked them but i didn’t. They were quite dry and it was like chewing rope. But i finished them anyway as i was hungry.

On go the headphones, off they go again until... “special meal for you sir?”

I had chosen the vegetarian indian meal. Was very curious what it was gonna be like. Rice and paneer!! And it was actually quite nice!!

Flight took 7 hours and arrived JFK around 1pm local time, with the pilot informing us that its 36 fucking degrees! (100F) It wasn’t so bad in the airport as it somewhat AC’ed.

I was looking forward to meeting the first Americans but what i got was moody airport workers. They took finger and hand prints and barely looked me in the eye. I felt like cattle. I then waited for my pre-arranged shared taxi-van type thing. The driver was way cool! Very charming and chatty with everyone. Some of the passengers (all brits) weren’t very nice though. Some were demanding they be dropped off first as there around 6 drops to make across Manhattan. I was last but happily so as i got to see a lot of sights along the way. The heat was something else though! It wasn’t even sunny but just SOO humid.

Had a nap and shower at the hotel before tarting up and heading out for my first evening meeting a friend of a friend named Christina. Started off at a posh Italian place called Eataly. Quite a cool feature about it was that it was one large open area and had several places to eat inside featuring the full features and varieties of italian food. Featuring things like pizza, different cheeses, pasta places, meat places. Lots of features in this feature packed feature. It was quite a sight seeing a line of fresh meat hung up in one area of the place and a billion types of cheese in another area. A place featuring wines and places offering pizzas and pastas (and other features).

It was way out of my depth though so i had to follow the lead of poor Christina who had to teach me the very basics like a 1 year old child learning to eat by himself. I warned her very early on that i am one of the most uncultured persons EVER. Bless her though, she was patient and not once did she tell me to fuck off.

She chose the wine and something called Bruschetta which came with wafer thin ham and some kind of soft cheese. Wasn’t quite sure how to eat it so i waited for her to take the first bit and then I imitated. She could have been rather mischievous here and told me im supposed to stick the ham up my nose, the cheese in my ears and the bread up my arse and I would have believed her.

Then we went to some sports bar where a few of her friends were as some major baseball game was on. I was quite eager to check out the atmosphere and it was as expected. Big sweaty loud men. Ordinarily i’d avoid a place like that in the UK, but it was cool to see it there. Loud brash new yorkers, sticking their fingers out towards the bar area with cash in their hands demanding drinks. Just like in the movies.
The barman was incredible. The sheer speed he was making drinks was amazing! He’d be facing forward and his hands would be flying all over the place, left, right, back behind him, to the side again, to the other side, grabbing the  required bottles needed to make the required drink. All free-poured. None of this silver measuring cups bollocks you get in the UK. Just BANG BANG DONE.

You ask for a vodka and lemonade and his hands shoot out to the left to grab a vodka bottle without him even looking that way. His other arm shoots the other way to grab a glass. Vodka gets poured and his other arm grabs ice. Lemonade poured at the end. He does all this without even looking at what he was doing! All the while, his feet were placing a ship in a bottle.

It was an early night for them as they had work the next day. I decided to walk home using my GPS to guide me as i was dying to see the streets seeing as it was only around midnight. Boy did i regret that the next day as my legs and feet were aching and i had so much walking planned. I checked the maps and it was around 5 bloody miles* i had walked.

*Exaggeration. It was about 3 miles.

I had arranged a 10am breakfast with my UK friend who is out there (hello Parg!) before she headed off to work. I hadn’t yet used the subway system so i got a taxi. The hotel has a doorman who is dedicated to ushering taxi’s. Spends his whole day near the kerb even when its raining just ushering taxis for hotel guests. The guy worked very hard. I feel bad i never got the chance to tip him. Check out the cool GPS systems every taxi has.

Stopped off at Union Park where i took a few photos of pigeons and squirrels. I bloody love pigeons.

Sandwich with Parg then on to my first official tourist activity. The Empire State Building. Along the way, the hangover and heat starts to hit me so i stop off at a little bar/restaurant at 10.30am that wasn’t actually opening for another hour but they were happy to serve me. They probably sensed my suffering. Such a nice cider. Weird orange colour though. And a strange teacup type thing. Proper sorted me out!

The queues at the Empire state building were stupid!  First thing was a lift up to nearly the top floor, my ears popped on the way. I got in to a room full of a winding queue, get to the end and in to another room and it’s the same bloody thing again. It repeated like that a few times along with a security section and a paying counter. All in all about an hour and a half of queues. Wouldn’t have been so bad if they served booze along the way.

The views were surreal though. I couldn’t quite accept the fact that i was 1’000 feet (300metres) in the air.

Me being me, i was reading about the suicides that have occured there. Only 30 since it was built 80 years ago. You’ll soon see why from the pics. The fence is massive and turns inwards. One suicide attempt was rather amusing...

On December 2, 1979, Elvita Adams jumped from the 86th floor, only to be blown back onto the 85th floor and left with a broken hip

The most annoying thing was having to queue to get back fucking down again. Wasn’t as bad but still took around half an hour to get outside. Out i went then on to the next activity, the 20min helicopter tour!  (Coming up in the next blog post).

This did not let down! Amazing ride all over manhattan and i got placed in the front seat luckily. I wanted to stay up there forever.

After that i headed to South Street Sea Port where i had the Clipper Tall Ship Tour planned. Had a bit of time so i decided to stop off for some food where they served me an amazing cheese toasted sandwich and the strongest motherfucking Long Island Iced Tea i ever had, and ever will have. It was absolutely horrid. I had requested no ice cos i wanted it a little stronger but boy did i regret that. One sip and i could have heaved. You can tell from the colour how little coke it had in it, It must have been like 20% Coke.

Two sips later (as you can see from the pic, how little i had drank at this point) and i was buzzing. There was no way i could finish this drink purely cos of the putrid taste. So i asked for a glass of coke and mixed it together.  Off i then went to the ship. (Photo of the ship from the helicopter ride)

This was wonderfully relaxing. The slow sail around the waters in the sunshine and the wind. The drivers invited volunteers to help pull up the sails. I had no intention of doing that. So i filmed it instead. I got chatting to the drivers (sailors?) in a drunken manner asking them stupid questions like  “Have you seen Pirates of the Caribbean? You remind me of the guys from there!”.  Blank stares i got back from one of them who looked a lot like Eidur Gudjohnsen. Moody bastards. He said he’d never seen the movie.

As we approached the Statue of Liberty, i bothered the other sailor and asked him what the statue meant to him just to start off a converstation. “What kinda question is that?” he said. I explained i was genuinely interested in whether its something that he had high regard for or whether he had gotten so used to it over the years he barely noticed it. He mumbled on about the history of it and how the French..... I wasn’t listening and soon made my way to the bar area to get another drink. The barlady was far more sociable. Probably cos she was drunk. She needed to be in order to cope with the other miserable sods she worked with.

After that was over i walked about a mile the long way back to the hotel, stopping off at a dog park. So many cute little dogs running around!! The owners were very sociable too.

Later on i headed off to meet Parg & Co at a karaoke bar, met her lovely buddies, sang Wonderwall with Parg, later on heading off to some shitty club type thing. Again, for some reason i decided to attempt walking home (it’s a drunken thing) but hailed a taxi about halfway home. At some point during this evening i fucked up. Big. Cos the next morning my phone was nowhere to be found. Arrrghhhhhh. It was insured though. I rang it a few times per day but it was going straight to voicemail. I had all my maps on that phone. It was what i had used so far to get around. The print-outs were a godsend!
Next blog post coming later this week.