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.

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