Category Archives: USA

Miami…what’s my vice?

4th & 5th October 2015
Miami

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Boy it’s warm…no make that hot, hot, hot.
Right from the first time you set eyes on the Miami skyline you know you’re somewhere special. First impressions are they started to build this city about six months ago, because everything looks new and modern. The sun glints off acres of glass, steel and marble to light up the rows and rows of almost brilliant white yachts in the marina.
I almost felt like I should dress up smartly to even dare to walk its streets…but I didn’t. Anyway off we go and with two days here we will definitely be looking at staying in the city and enjoying the nightlife.
But first the daytime and the shuttle bus drops us at Bayside, a large indoor/outdoor shopping/eating/drinking/tour booking/hop on hop off bus catching/everything kind of a place. But more on that later as we’re off for a walk along the waterfront, hopefully to find a bit of shade and a place to sit and watch the world go by. After about an hour we’d ambled into a residential area and as we found nothing particular to do there we headed back the way we’d come. We didn’t stop anywhere as most of the shady sitting areas were occupied by a collection of strangely pungent individuals who appeared to have set up home. Shame.
Back at Bayside we had a wander around the stalls and shops but unfortunately there was rain in the air. So GUESS WHAT? We went for a beer.
And there in the middle of Bayside was Forrest Gump’s bench…complete with a box of chocolates. Of course it’s not the real one, but it was located outside Bubba Gump’s Shrimp House. We sat at the bar, ordered two Buds and a shrimp feast, which we ate greedily whilst watching NFL on the considerable number of TV screens. Great way to spend a Sunday afternoon in my opinion.
After a few more libations we noticed the rain had finally stopped and we headed back to the ship for a shower and a lie down…boy oh boy does this heat drain the energy.
Back in the city later that evening we popped into Los Ranchos for a snack.

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This was arguably the best food we’d had this trip…an incredibly tender rib-eye steak with a lobster tail, all washed down with lashings of sangria. The service was good and the view over the marina, with all the boats lit up, was great. In fact the whole evening was perfect…except for one small issue, and it is a very small issue I agree, but it irritates me. Once again I’m referring to tips/gratuities, call them what you want.
I’ve stated many times that I have no problem with tipping excellent service, but I do object to being told what the amount of that tip should be. Here in the US there is often a calculation at the bottom of the check to show a suggested level of gratuity. On this occasion the suggestions were 15%, 18% and 20% with our server taking the time to highlight the highest figure. Yes, the service was good but no better than I would have expected from an establishment of this nature.
In the UK I will always leave a tip in a restaurant, but it’s value is never based on the amount of money we’ve spent on the food and drink, rather it’s just a reward to the server based on how he/she has facilitated a good experience.
So why in America do they insist the value of gratuity is based on the money being spent? If I order a $10 burger or a $60 lobster the service I receive (i.e. taking my order, informing the kitchen and finally delivering it to the table) is the same. But the difference in suggested gratuity is $2 for the burger and $12 for the lobster…WHY?
Worryingly, when I’ve asked this question, the only answer I’ve been given is that if you can afford the expensive meals you can afford the increased gratuity.
Honest certainly but not necessarily right.
On this occasion the suggested gratuity would have taken me three hours to earn in my last job…so I feel like I was being asked to pay the servers wages rather than just a personal acknowledgement that he’d done his job well.
OK, rant over. But because I wouldn’t like to be considered rude I felt obliged to pay what was suggested…so I did.
A stroll around the tranquil harbour somewhat calmed my irritated mood and then we got the shuttle bus back to the ship.
Hang on a cotton picking moment…I feel another rant coming on.
We’re the only ones on the shuttle and the driver informs us that there hasn’t been anyone leaving or returning to the ship for over an hour. I really struggle to understand why out of over a thousand folk there are very few who get out and enjoy the nightlife of the city. We are constantly trying to encourage the cruise companies to offer more overnight or late night stays, which in most cities is the time they start livening up. But we’re onto a loser because when we’re offered the chance few people participate. Such a shame.
Second rant over…and so to bed, perchance to dream of exotic places and never ending jugs of sangria.

Day Two.
We weren’t quite sure what to do today so we ambled aimlessly round the streets of Miami until we discovered a smoothie bar…took all of one street and five minutes.
‘Let’s make a Daiquiri’ was our choice and we sat at the bar in the shade and drank tropical smoothies for quite a while. Then we walked to the ‘Hard Rock Cafe’ and had lunch. Sorry but it was just too hot for us to stay out and explore, however we did sit for a while watching the fish jumping in the harbour.
All in all a very good day, despite the fact it probably wouldn’t have mattered where in the world we were…but we were in Miami. It didn’t matter to us that we hadn’t been to a museum or ridden a fast boat across the everglades, and we certainly weren’t bothered about a ‘hop on hop off’ to South Beach on this occasion.
It was just nice to have been relaxing here, together. The sun shone and the skies were blue and sometimes (and these ‘sometimes’ are happening more often) it’s just nice to sit and let the world rush by and think ourselves lucky. We don’t always need to tick boxes of the places we’ve been and the things we’ve done, we can just be grateful we ‘are’.
Miami was hot, but the places we drank and ate delicious fare were cool, the people were warm and friendly. All in all just about as good as it could have been for us at this time in this place

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UP..UP.. AND AWAY

Snoopy
3rd October 2015
Port Canaveral

Firstly, we visited the port of Jacksonville yesterday, yes that’s right, just the port and nowhere else. There was a shuttle bus service again from the port to the town, but each return trip was nearly an hour. As there was only 4 buses laid on and our ticket number was thirteen (again) we weren’t called until just before 1pm…was it worth it we asked ourselves? And the reply from one of the returning passengers was a resounding NO.
“They just took you to St John’s shopping mall,” we were told.
So to cut a long story short, Jacksonville was not a resounding success, in fact no body actually got to the main city, except the few who paid huge amounts of money to get a taxi.

So here we are in Port Canaveral…and were heading for the Kennedy Space Centre/Center to relive memories of our youth as we both followed mankind’s early ventures into space with great interest.
Now can I just mention the mode of transport we used to get there? I had initially gone online before this trip to discover the best way of getting to KSC and there was a fair amount of discussion about the port’s main taxi service. There was quite a bit of criticism about the attitude of some of the drivers from 888 taxi’s and suggestions that their prices weren’t very competitive. So in advance I booked an alternative company, via e-mail, before we left.
Twenty minutes after our scheduled pick-up time we had to concede that we’d been let down and had no other choice than to use the services of 888.
Now I have to speak as I find. The controller at the port desk was very courteous and the price quoted was $10 more than the other company (but they hadn’t turned up anyway) He made a call and within a few minutes ‘Todd’ turned up. The car was clean, icy cold and roomy, Todd was polite and chatty and kept us entertained all the way to KSC. He gave us some advice about what to see there and, more importantly, how we could get the best from our visit, like where to sit on the bus etc.
He dropped us near the entrance, we exchanged phone numbers and off we set.
I don’t quite know how much to say about our visit because there were many surprises and even a couple of ‘Wow’ moments, which I wouldn’t like to spoil for anyone else visiting for the first time. Needless to say we had a great five hours at this incredible attraction and really enjoyed ourselves.
Briefly, the bus tour around the launch pads with a visit to the Saturn V rocket exhibition took about 2/2.5 hours. Sitting on the right hand side of the bus is the best position (on the right when facing forward) and keep your eyes peeled for the wildlife especially turtles and alligators.
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Visit the Atlantis Shuttle Experience and indulge in all the simulators…great fun. If there’s a queue then wait, it really is worth it. I was surprised how many people stepped out of line just because there was a ten to fifteen minute wait…big mistake.
If you’re in the shuttle hall at certain times there is an opportunity to hear from genuine shuttle astronauts, very interesting. Of course there is always the souvenir shops as well full of the usual ‘how could I ever live without one of those’ paraphernalia.
Imax shows several different films, so find out the times of each when you get there and plan accordingly. The one involving the mission to repair Hubble appears to be the most popular.
There are a few other things to do including the astronaut hall of fame and a launch simulator, but sadly we ran out of time. But we did sample a burger…very tasty.
Todd from 888 was waiting in the car park at exactly the time we’d agreed, so I think there’s a lesson there…don’t believe everything you read in the online forums. Yes it may not be right that one particular taxi company seems to have the monopoly in a port, but then reliability might be a reason…who can say after just one visit. But as I said before, speak as you find and we found 888 taxis to be good, they did exactly what we needed them to do, at a fair price.
We never got to visit Cocoa Beach, which is a shame as it was a beautiful day, but we did end up having a couple of beers in ‘The Cove’ just beyond the port…the food looked good as well, but there wasn’t time.
All in all a very good day and given the chance we would definitely return.

Spaceman

Do the Charleston…..

29th & 30th September 2015
Charleston
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Our first visit to this town, in fact this is the first time we’ve been anywhere in the US south of New York. We’d docked around midday, pulled on our best walking shoes and set off.
First thing we noticed as we left the super-cooled air-conditioned environment of the ship was it was hot….and very humid. But that wasn’t going to deter us one little bit even though we weren’t really sure what we were going to do or see here.
Just outside the port we met our first local (there were going to be many) a taxi driver…but instead of trying to convince us that he was going to light up our world with the tour of a lifetime for an irresistible price, he just asked if he could help.
We told him we just wanted to see the town and he directed us towards the park then pointed out several other areas of interest. We thanked him and without any pressure he handed us his business card with a simple, ‘If I can be of any help, please call me’.
Now it’s rare that we bother using the local taxi’s because they are often quite aggressive in the way they go about their business (and that’s understandable considering how many of them there are) but this guy’s approach got my attention. I promised to make him our first point of contact should we require transport during our visit, and to be honest I meant it. Nice bloke.
So we found the park which was very pretty, with a couple of large fountains and a beautiful tree-lined avenue. Shame about the smell. The waterfront area appears to be a salt marsh with a mass of reeds lining the water’s edge.
We especially loved the signs detailing the rules of entering the fountain areas. We were informed there was no life guard on duty and paddling was at the visitors own risk. It was also forbidden for a single individual to step into the cool water, bathing was for a minimum of 2 persons and a maximum of 25 (picture above is of one of them….fountain not bather) No alcohol, no loud music, no electrical equipment!!! LOVE IT, LOVE IT.
Anyway (there’s my favourite word again) walking from the park and around some of the back streets we enjoyed seeing the pretty traditional houses, all shapes and sizes, so cute. Then we found a main street full of galleries (there are many of these in Charleston…it must be a very inspiring town)
We found several churches, cemeteries, museums and many more galleries on our travels, but by now we were hot and just a little bit damp. Time for a drink.
It was 5pm and, because of the time we’d arrived, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and as the local Irish Bar, Tommy Condons, was offering 2 for 1 on burgers we decided to try them out (just for research of course and it would be rude not to) We were not disappointed….however we were still full when it came to dinner later that evening.
At around 8pm we headed back towards the port, but by now the market stalls were all gone. At least we had another day here so tomorrow maybe!
At this point I am going to have a moan. I won’t name names but it concerns one of the ‘sweet shops’ near to the market. As we’d passed by we were enticed in by a delicious smell of caramel. The young lady behind the counter had offered us a taste of a praline/pecan biscuit.
Mmm, very tasty. So we asked to purchase a couple of these digestive biscuit size delights. She put them in a bag and weighed them.
“Nine twenty five,” she requested.
“Sorry?” I asked. That seemed a bit pricey for two biscuits even if they were of the melt in your mouth and transport you to heaven variety.
“Nine twenty five,” she repeated.
“Really?” I’m not very good at concealing my surprise or shock, but I handed over a $10 bill anyway.
“Do you need change?” she asked.
Normally I don’t like receiving coins back in change, it drives that magical archy, metal detector thingy at security crazy. But this was an exception.
“Absolutely,” I demanded.
Now it was her turn to show surprise.
“Really?” she asked.
I held out my hand, expecting her to hand over the gold plated treats and my change. But she didn’t. The bag I’d just paid for was still on the scales, she looked down at it.
“Hang on a minute,” she stated, “I pressed the wrong button.”
“Meaning?”
“I pressed the wrong button.” Now she’s frantically pressing buttons.
“Yes I got that bit the first time, but…”
“The price should be nine ninety six.” She smiled and defiantly cocked her head to one side. Unfortunately she had my money and my cookies…what choice did I have.
I held out my hand and she handed me the bag, which I took, then out went my hand again.
“You still want change?” she looked genuinely shocked.
“Sure do.”
She reached into the till drawer, took an age to collect the four one cent coins and counted each one into my hand.
“Thank you,” I said and stood my ground.
For a second or two she looked at me, puzzled.
“Thank you,” I repeated. It was my turn to tilt my head and for good measure I raised my eyebrows.
She sighed, “You’re welcome.”

Back at the ship we found a couple of our dining companions to inform them we wouldn’t be down for dinner. Then we’d showered, dressed and headed back into the town for a beer.
We avoided the first bar as it was very busy owing to a ‘Drag Act’ performing. Further up the road we discovered a nice open terrace with American football playing on several big screens. This was the one for us, and a couple of local beers later we wended our way slowly back to cool down after a day sweltering in this interesting town.
Hang on a minute….wasn’t that several male crumblies off our ship sneaking furtively out of the ‘Drag Act’ bar? Well I never!

Day Two
Now breakfast onboard the ship is ok, but after nearly three weeks it’s quite samey. So this morning we’re on a mission to get ourselves a proper, bon-afide, genuine American Breakfast.
One of the servers in Condon’s suggested ‘Toast’ on Mission Street and when we arrive it was packed. So we got our name on the list and waited. Ten minutes later we’re shown to our table and lavished with tea, coffee and juice.
I order a Short Stack and my dear lady get French Toast (reputed to be highly recommended by the New York Times)
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Now I have to admit that although I’d ordered buttermilk pancakes, crispy bacon and maple syrup I wasn’t absolutely sure I was going to like the combination. But, hey ho, it just has to be done at least once in a lifetime.
It was good….very good….very filling and sweet beyond belief….but very good.
Breakfast done we wandered first to the Confederate Museum at the top of Market Street, then on to the main Charleston Museum at the other end of Mission Street. Both were very good and we enjoyed a few hours of history and culture.
Around 3pm we’d started our walk back to the market to browse the stalls, but guess what? We never made it that far. It was hot here….very hot and sticky. So where better to stop and drink margaritas than a bar called Sticky Fingers.
Once propped up at the bar we ordered a couple which didn’t last very long, so another two quickly followed. Now this is where I made a slight miscalculation. We’d been tempted to enter this particular establishment by the sign outside which read
‘Margaritas..$3 all day’
This was exceeding temptation, but I was sure at that price there would be little alcohol included (in most of the bars the cocktails were at least $5/6) So a few more margaritas followed as they were so refreshing.
I think we’d just finished our third when the rain started hammering down outside (I realise that it would hardly be raining inside but please remember I have been drinking)
So we ordered another round along with a plate of nachos smothered in barbequed pulled pork. I think I can honestly say these were the best we’ve ever had, and Brittany our server appeared to keep topping up our glasses regularly.
In the meantime we’d started up a conversation with a local lad who’d joined us at the bar. I know we got a little loud and merry but I definitely remember having the best of afternoons with our new friends…hands across the water and all that stuff.
Before we knew it the clock on the wall told us it was time to go as the ship would be leaving in an hour. Standing up was the first issue and walking in a straight line was positively out of the question.
However we did make it back safely, but instead of standing up on deck for the sail away we fell sound asleep in our cabin, and there we remained until 8am the next morning.
Charleston was a top port with great people and we’d happily return….but that’s not just the drink talking….we really enjoyed ourselves (except maybe for the sweetie shop where we felt we were somewhat ripped off)

Go Yankees….

26th & 27th September 2015
New York, New York.

Go Yankees

We were due to visit Martha’s Vineyard Oaks Bluff yesterday and although the ship did actually drop anchor somewhere near to the port, my dear lady and I declined the crew’s kind offer to transport us ashore. The sea was active and having watched a couple of tenders rolling around in the somewhat extensive swell, we decided there was nothing particular we wanted to do or see there (stop shouting ‘Cowards’ at your screen)
However it was a very ‘Good Choice’.
We discovered later that most of the transfers to shore were full of incident with liberal amounts of carrot infested chunder thrown in for good measure (or should that be thrown up?) Several folk needed medical attention, and at one stage the ‘stretcher party’ was called to the tender dock.
Anyway, let’s leave that one for now and move to one of the highlights of this trip….
New York, New York, a helluva town.
The Bronx’s is up but the Battery’s down.
The people ride in a hole in the ground.
(from the musical ‘On the Town’ lyrics by Comden & Green)
We were looking forward to our third visit to this metropolis, which is unusual considering my contempt for most big cities.
We had a plan, but it’s risky, so confidence was a little low, but expectation was high.
We were going to attempt to get to grips with the intricacies of that mysterious underworld better known as the ‘New York Subway’ (Dah..Dah..Daaahhhh)
So we set off for our first destination….50th and 8th.
Once found we joined hands, whispered a silent prayer and headed into the abyss.
Well…we were aiming initially to reach west 4th street, Washington Square on the C line. This would deliver us into the heart of Greenwich Village, a recommended area we’d not yet explored. So let’s get tickets….just how hard could this be?
A Metro Pass is the way to go as it’s very similar to London’s Oyster Card, load it up and off you go. Except the machines purporting to deliver these plastic novelties are not the easiest to understand….unless you do what I did before we travelled….check out the procedure on YouTube. I’m certainly glad I did as some of my fellow tourists ended up shouting at the rather shabby metal dream destroyer, as after many attempts it stubbornly refused to issue anything resembling a ticket.
Twenty five minutes later and the worst was over, my patience (and meticulous research) was rewarded, and as we swiped our access pass to paradise with gusto I felt a sense of euphoria at having successfully negotiated this first complex hurdle. My dear lady warned me not to shout ‘That’s the way to do it suckers’ as pride definitely comes before a fall.
So there we were on the platform, with what seemed like the entire population of a small city, and it’s hot.
Erm….maybe this wasn’t going to be fun after all.
The train arrived, pushing even more hot, acrid air in front of it. Like a lava flow we were overcome by a scalding wall of heat which stunned us for a second or two. The doors opened and we were virtually carried onto the carriage and pushed deep into the heart of the crush.
Now I’m often accused of exaggerating the situation a little, massaging the events to create interest and drama….ME??…NEVER!!…well maybe…just a touch 
To be honest it really wasn’t too bad. Let’s just say that New Yorkers have learnt to accept a lack of personal space in order to reach their destination quickly and very cheaply. And so must we as tonight we’re heading for Yankee Stadium for a baseball game. The taxi fare would be $50 each way, but we can use the subway for a tenth of that. Nuff said!
Moving on, and Greenwich Village was well worth the visit, as was Washington Square Park. There was a Pagan Pride festival going on with more witches in attendance than we saw in Salem. There was also a young man playing a ‘Grand’ piano under the ‘Grand’ arch entrance to the park…only in America would you find a grand piano in a park.
We left the park and headed downtown, specifically to Chinatown for lunch. For the second time this trip we stumbled upon the place we were looking for without too much searching and enjoyed a lunch of dim sum and noodles…yummy.
A lot more walking around the city hall and courts area to admire the grandeur of the architecture and the time passed quickly. As the baseball game was due to start at 4pm we set off to find the appropriate subway. Now this became bone of contention as the subway stations are not very well marked, and you need a different entrance for different directions. Eventually we found what we were looking for, a number 4 express, and managed to squeeze on.
Yankee stadium is huge and looks very modern. The collection of tickets at ‘will call’ was easy and entry through security was quick. All good so far. Seats were found and there was plenty of leg room and a great view. We stood for the national anthem and readied ourselves for the first pitch.
The whole atmosphere was great but maybe a little more subdued than we were expecting, but our overall impression was very good. As expected food and drink was expensive and when I went to get a beer I was actually id’d. That made me momentarily forget I was paying 10 bucks for a bud which, according to all the signs around, was going to increase my energy intake by 300 odd calories. In fact everything for sale inside the stadium carried a calorific value to let the fans know just how much weight they would gain during the game.
Wow thanks for that…go Yankees.
Game over and back on the subway to Grand Central and a walk down 42nd street, through Times Square and finally back to the ship.
I know…let’s do it all again tomorrow 

Day two dawned bright and warm, however we slept late, missed dawn and went straight for the heat and chaos of mid morning.
Today we were on a mission to find and walk the High Line, a disused elevated section of rail track starting somewhere around 34th and 12th.
A short 10 minute walk from the ship and it was easily spotted and joined. We had a very interesting slow amble along about a mile and half of pretty gardens with interesting features, including what looks like a branch line which cuts straight through the middle of a building.
Once at the end we turned round and headed back the way we’d come until we reached Chelsea Market.
This was an incredible place to visit and full of complete surprises when it comes to comparing it to markets back in the UK. Brilliant and well worth a visit, especially for lunch as there is so much choice.
That’s pretty much all we did today and we really enjoyed this little piece of paradise in the vast sprawl of the city.
Just one small incident which gave us a titter. Outside Chelsea Markets there is a street marked ‘For Loading and Unloading only’. There was a line of about fifteen lorries all sporting the same company’s ‘Fruit and Vegetables to the Trade’ livery and they were parked up with no apparent activity of the loading/unloading variety.
A very happy traffic warden was gleefully writing tickets and dutifully booking every single one of them. I started to wonder if this was a regular Sunday morning activity for said uniformed enforcer of street law and I could imagine her begging to work overtime in order to get her quota in at the start of each week…Priceless.
Another great visit to this great city, and now we have an understanding of the subway system it will hopefully open up a whole world of possibilities next time….providing of course there is a next time.

The Big Apple 2…..pips an all

23rd September 2014

New York – New York…….Day 2

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             First up today we’re going to get a water taxi and have a ride down the Hudson to Battery Park then round under the Brooklyn Bridge, across to Liberty then Ellis Island and back. The sun is hot and the queues not too bad so it’s going to be a good day.
Of course I say the queues aren’t too bad but we’ve discovered (not for the first time) the lack of manners from some of our European neighbours. As we just missed one boat we were first in the line for the next one, but strangely we’re about tenth to get on the boat…..Why? Well because several individuals pushed their way to the front (and I am going to name and shame here) such as four Germans, a couple with Spanish as their native language and a small group of French. Now I appreciate that it’s only a minority that are truly this rude but why does it always seem they seem to believe they are more important than the rest of us. Do they do the same at home or would they be put in place by their own countrymen? I can’t believe just how uncaring some folk can be…….ok rant over.

The boat trip is good and the guide, Jim (great name) keep us all royally entertained (every Jim I meet is a joker) It’s a fact that you get much better views and pictures of the popular attractions from the river so many a pixel used to record the sights.
We eventually left the boat at Christopher Street in Greenwich with the intention of taking a slow walk back to the ship and at some point stopping for lunch. But first a quick stop off at pier 54, the pier the Titanic survivors were bought to and the same pier the Lusitania left from before being torpedoed off the coast of Ireland. Needless to say it’s no longer used by any seafaring vessel, very superstitious these seamen, and rightly so.

It was a pleasant walk back along the river frontage, passing Chelsea piers, but surprisingly we’re not finding anywhere here to eat, apparently you need to walk down the inside streets to get to where there are eateries and the like. Anyway we find an Irish pub near to Intrepid and although the beer is good the food is not, and it’s pricey.

P1010340Intrepid is well worth a visit, and pay the extra to see the shuttle, it really is an amazing feat of engineering and it’s a real eye opener to see the conditions the navy endure to keep our world safe. Of course we did the usual stuff as well like the Empire State, Rockefeller Centre, Times Square (which incidentally is presently being dug up?) but I definitely missed a visit to China Town for food…..oh well next time eh?

Just one more thing before we leave the US and head back into Canada, I really love the patriotism of the Americans. Sometimes we Brits are made to feel embarrassed about who and what we are. Instead of importing the likes of McD’s and Burger King, 4 million varieties of pizza and so many styles of coffee it’s painful, we should adopt some of the pride they have about being American in being British. We should celebrate our own culture before allowing others to erode what we have because they find it offensive…..if we don’t very soon it’ll all be gone, forever…….Good grief……it must be my rant day!!!!

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Thanks New York, wasn’t quite what we were hoping for but then we Brits never really know what we want……..but it was still a good visit and as usual you entertained us 🙂 we’ll be back.

The Big Apple……take a big bite

22nd-23rd September 2014

New York – New York

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            During yesterday’s sea day nothing of any significance happened so that is why you got my take on ‘What makes us human’ I hope you enjoyed reading it………..did anyone actually get past the first paragraph before hitting the like button and going elsewhere? Thank you if you did…….

Having said nothing really happened yesterday there was one incident worth a mention when a lady was overheard chatting to one of the ships photogs. He was telling her this was his third year working on the ships, to which she replied,
“So you haven’t had much chance to travel then?”
“Oh yes madam, I’ve been round the world twice and seen nearly all the major cities on every continent.”
“How lovely,” she replies, “And to have such a great employer……giving you all that time off.”
To be fair, I think the lack of shuttle buses in Boston has taken its toll on many of our fellow cruisers. There is a certain amount of angry frustration circulating especially as a fair number of the older and less able folk didn’t even bother to get off. I do have some sympathy with their plight, but at the same time I find the banter entertaining and it gives me something to report.

Anyway…..back to the Big Apple.

For me New York is an enigma as originally I thought I’d hate the place. I’d imagined masses of bodies charging along the sidewalks and claustrophobic dark streets deprived of sunlight by walls of glass and concrete. But the first time we came here in 2012 it didn’t feel like that at all. It felt fresh, clean and vibrant, there was a positive atmosphere and we loved it.

But this time it didn’t feel the same. It wasn’t completely the opposite but something didn’t feel right. Maybe it was just we did different things this time or even that we had different expectations, and we still enjoyed ourselves but….something was different, maybe it was us…..oh well, on with the story.

P1030495There’s a certain world leader coming here tomorrow and we’ve been warned that there will be delays ‘downtown’ because of this. Still that doesn’t really worry us because we’re heading for Central Park and the Natural History Museum (Cheryl’s just not content to live with a fossil, she wants to go and visit a few as well) So after collecting our New York Passes from the sales office we headed north…….oops sorry I mean ‘uptown’.

The walk is good and easy, but it’s noticeable that there’s a lot of new construction going on all around us (like everywhere else we’ve been so far) and this part of the city (8th Ave above 50th St) is very quiet, almost deserted in fact…………Then we get to the gates of the park, well we try but our way appears to be blocked by people, hundreds of them, and every single one of them is determined to rent us a bike or sell us a horse and cart ride.
“I’ve got two good legs thanks, I’m going to walk.”
“But it’s eight and half miles round and dangerous.”
“You mean I might get run over by all the bike riders or a bloody runaway horse and cart. I’ll take the chance……thanks…”
“Wouldn’t you like to treat your lady sir.”
“Give me a break, she’s already in a bad mood with me.”
“But you can enjoy the park in comfort.”
“WHAT? I really enjoy clutching my nose to block out the awful smell whilst waving my hands furiously to keep the flys off………it’s still a no……but thanks.”
“My horse isn’t that smelly.”
Please feel free to add the obvious line at this point………….But I’ll give the guy his due because he’s not finished yet. He’s hot on our heels and if nothing else his presence is detracting the others from bothering us…..maybe there’s a clue there……but I’m a professional when it comes to ‘No means No’.
“You’ll miss all the good stuff if you go it alone,” he insists. Suddenly we see our chance and quickly side step a crush of people heading our way, he’s not so nimble on his feet and we make good our escape.
“Take my offer before it’s too late,” I hear him call after us, “You won’t regret it.”
“Oh yes I would,” I happily mutter to myself, I really am not a horsey type of person and I don’t like to consider myself in need of a lift……just yet, but I do accept they’re only trying to make a living. However I do feel some tourists would feel intimidated into doing something they may not really want to……oh well.

Once inside the gates it is quite obvious that this is a massive place, and the road is crammed with horses and bikes, with joggers and skaters filling in the gaps. Worryingly we hear that one pedestrian had recently been killed by someone riding a bike in a ‘No Riding’ designated area, so there are marshals everywhere telling all those folk who have just hired the bikes to,
“Get off that bike and walk it on the paths.”
So having spent good money to ride around the park they are not only having to walk but have a heavy bike to push as well. And once they reach the end of the path they discover that everyone is only allowed to ride in ‘one direction’ (good name for a boy band) and that’s not the direction they want to go…………now who has regrets?

Anyway, enough of horses and bikes. We spend a good hour wandering up the west side of the park and it’s a nice park with lots of interesting paths where horses can’t take you (sorry I just can’t let it go, can I?) It’s certainly a well used space and young and old alike are enjoying a nice pleasant day doing their ‘own thing’, brilliant. In general it’s clean and well maintained, much better than some of our own recreational spaces back home.

We reach the Natural History Museum and spent a couple of hours looking around the maze of halls full of ‘stuff’. And the verdict? Great, really fascinating.

P1030484From here we walked to St John the Divine Cathedral (supposedly the biggest in the world) and enjoy the visit. Not much to say really, it’s a church, just a very big one……..followed by lunch in the Morning Heights district (where’s China town when you need it?)
So now we have a seventy (ish) blocks to walk back to the ship and we decide to take the route through Riverside Park. This, if anything, is better than Central Park because there appear to be more trees and flowers, with less grass. It’s a really nice walk, and once again it’s nice to see so many people using the facilities.

The evenings theatre trip to see Mamma Mia was very good, and of course very busy. I can’t really add a lot here because everyone gets different things from a show and what I considered was good to watch (the technical stuff) most folk would find boring. Simple set, great lighting (of course I could have done it better ;)) The only downside for me was the sound guy (Mike……get it??) had a tendency to be a bit slider happy at certain times and the volume went off the wall and ran off down 42nd street on a  few occasions……..way too hot on the gain Mike and louder is good but not always better..

P1030490And that was day one in the Big Apple….and not an apple in sight. But at last to bed to dream of horses riding bikes through Central Park, with men in snorkels and flippers dancing around a dinosaur…

Me? Strange? No way..

Bostin’ Boston

19th-20th September 2014

Bostin’ Boston – Massachusetts

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For those not used to Black Country terminology bostin’ means great or even superb. We’ve been here before and this is another place we really like. Boston has a very unique heritage having been the centre for the fight for independence against the oppressive English and the ‘Freedom Trail’ here is very interesting and thought provoking. That aside it’s a very, very, very nice place to visit. There’s a lot of construction going on and it’s very clear that Boston is also looking to build a thriving new modern city as well attracting visitors with its historical past.

So firstly it’s another beautiful day (ye gods are definitely smiling our way) but the bad news is there’s no shuttle busses being laid on and it’s three miles into town. The queue for local transport is huge, so what other choice do we have? Oh well off we go, and to be fair it’s a pleasant easy walk and within forty minutes we’re at central wharf in the centre of town.

P1030401          We have a whale watch booked with Boston Harbor Cruises, which we booked direct and saved ourselves over £50 compared with the ship tour going with the same company. We are aware that the morning tour was cancelled because of rough weather beyond the harbour (my spellchecker just quit because I keep spelling harbor/harbour wrong) Unfortunately this afternoons event has also been cancelled…….ah well, at least we get our money back. But then there’s so much to see and do here it’s not really a problem to make alternative plans. So we walk the ‘Freedom Trail’ and generally have a great afternoon in the city.

After a return to the ship to shower and change it’s time for our first theatre trip to see ‘Blue Man Group’ at the Charles Playhouse. But first let’s get some food…..erm Chinatown here we come. We stroll up and down for a few minutes and choose the busiest place, which is more like a canteen than a restaurant. But we’re not disappointed, the food is great and more importantly cheap (how do they do it?) Yes the attitude of the staff is a bit gruff and there is a great discussion and pointing in our direction when we refuse the offer of knives and forks, but the deliciously mounded plates of food makes it all worthwhile.

Following the food comes the show…….and what a great show. I admit I’m not a one for the theatre but this was nearly two hours of very cleverly choreographed fun. It’s simple but complex and appealing to old and young (and grumpy gits) alike. Definitely worth the money, and the walk which of course is a useful way of burning off all those ‘sweet and sour’ calories, but there’s a small price to pay for our energetic enthusiasm and as our second day dawns over Boston we can hardly move…….oh the joys of older age.

After a quick rub down with an oily rag (have you seen the towels recently?) we head off refreshed into the centre. Today the mission is most definitely food, more specifically Quincy Market food. A good long walk into town certainly improves the appetite and after enjoying a couple of the street entertainers the fun begins with some pizza slices. Mmmmm, mmmm. Then we share a bread bowl of delicious clam chowder and finish the whole thing off with a disgustingly large ice cream from ‘Sprinkles’. What more can I say? The food here speaks volumes for itself, and we never got round to sampling the masses of Chinese, sandwiches, wraps, lobster stacks, hoagies, hot dogs and burgers. I’ve said it before but I’m not surprised at the size of some of the locals here, they certainly don’t skimp on the portions. Yes it’s not cheap (compared to last night’s Chinese it’s very pricey) but it’s so worth spoiling any diet, after all we are on holiday J

Well, that was it really. A slow amble back to the ship and a farewell sail away from one (of many) of our favourites. You can bet your bottom dollar we’ll be back, there’s still so much left to try.

Bostin’ Boston with bostin’ fittle…..and that one I’ll leave to your imagination because New York here we come, I just hope the weather continues and we all have a wonderful time in the ‘Big Apple’ (hmm there’s a reference to food again but let’s hope it’s not that healthy)

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Goodbye Boston…..we’ll be back

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Bar Harbor – Maine USA

18th September 2014

Bar Harbor – Maine……USA

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Well………today was a very early start as the entire ship had to undergo an immigration inspection by US customs. What can I say apart from it was all supposed to start at a very early hour (about 5am) so we were all up and ready, passports and ESTA’s in hand, unfortunately they weren’t quite as prepared and things got delayed. Tempers frayed (a little) comments were made (a lot) and after an hour or so of waiting in line someone was sent to the back of the queue for an inappropriate remark. Nice….well you were warned not to mess with US homeland security guys and gals!

Anyway, by about 10.30 ish we were all done and ready to go ashore…..by tender (I can understand why they call it tender, because it’s very rough on the old posterior and makes it very…….yes you got it……tender) There are two other cruise ships in the harbour (see the word harbour does have a u in it) one of them being the QM2, so there’s going to be a lot of folk ashore.

There’s a lot of folk ashore (see what did I tell you) and the whole place is wall to wall Americans (I’m not sure what I expected to find in America? But I’m glad to see my observational skills are still intact) There’s a bit of a hold up as several of them are comparing their babies in the middle of the boardwalk so no one can pass. Well I say babies but I mean cameras, which are actually the size of small children, and they cradle them like they would a baby, lovingly caressing the telephoto lens and drooling over the pixels (which of course are mega) The main problem though is they can only take pictures of stuff that is smaller than a microbe and at least 5 miles away, and owing the sheer weight of their equipment they can’t hold it steady for any longer than 1/250th of a second at 800 ASA with the f:stop set at 4 (I’ve no idea what I just said but it sounded good)

P1030378           Anyway, we eventually got passed them without too much damage to our sanity (or thankfully their babies) and had a really interesting walk around the coastal path then up into the Arcadia National Park via ‘Strawberry Hill’ and amazingly we’re completely on our own up here. We spot lots of squirrels and for the first time we see some of the trees putting out their autumn colours, very pretty.

Following the local trail map we come across a cemetery with the most amazing views across the hills to Cadillac Mountain. As you would expect it’s very peaceful and we sat for a while alongside the residents who almost seem to welcome our presence. Then we continue on our way and after about an hour we’re back in the town, and of course we pop into the church. WOW……..one of the nicest we’ve been in for a long while. All highly polished dark wood pews and Italian stained glass windows.

We visit the fire station and the local square then it’s time for a bite. The Thirsty Whale is packed so we wander around until we find a side street café which is aptly named ‘The Side Street Café’ where we indulge in macaroni cheese with fresh lobster and burgers, really yummy, oh and just for your information the beers not bad either………

More wanderings and we find a pen for Polly then indulge in a really naughty ice cream.

Well, I think it’s fair to say that Bar Harbor is well worth a visit if only to sample the lobster and local beer. But fortunately it’s more than just that and we had a really nice day here even if it started late!!!

Shame we had to leave really, but not because there was more we were desperate to do, it’s because we had to go back on that bloody tender………Oh well into every buttock some ointment we must rub……

 

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Confused? you will be……..

6th September 2014

Sea Day – Inside Out

Much better day as far as the fair weather cruisers are concerned and the sun is back out, and therefore so are the brown wrinkly bodies. I’ve commented before about how much sun some of our older companions expose themselves to and although it’s not the prettiest of sights there is the more worrying aspect with regards to the potential risk of melanomas. But then maybe as we age we care less about certain things, and mainly do we worry less about what happens to ourselves? In the fullness of time I may be able to give you an answer but I’ve still got a long way to go before I know………..I HOPE.
Great story has emerged today about the lady who has complained that the inside cabin she booked doesn’t have a window overlooking the sea, or any window for that matter. When the guest relations manager explained that only outside cabins have windows she got really shirty and asked why a cabin outside would need a window when it’s already…….well already outside. It took a while for the crew member to explain that the outside cabin wasn’t actually outside but rather outside on the inside, whereas the inside was in fact inside the outside cabins and therefore if it did have a window then it would be looking directly inside an outside cabin and not outside.
As a gesture of goodwill she was then offered a complementary upgrade to an outside cabin. She thanked the manager for his kind offer but said she’d prefer to have a cabin on the inside which had a window looking outside rather than being in an outside cabin with a window looking outside, which she considered was actually impossible. When it was pointed out again that the cabin wasn’t actually outside but rather inside, outside the inside one she already had, she asked if she could have one with a sea view instead.
I believe the guest relations manager is flying home on long term sick leave tomorrow. Talking of which we’ll actually be on dry land tomorrow, Newfoundland to be exact and the town of St John’s. Hopefully then some sanity will return both to the passengers and this blogger, but I guess there’s a good chance for one but certainly not the other.

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My Fellow Cruisers

5th September 2014

Sea Day – how much longer the cry goes out

The weather has cut up a bit rough today and many have taken to their cabins to lie down for the duration of the less than perfect weather. Now I just love this because I actually want to feel the ship move (but not too much hopefully) I find that the movement of the ship as it follows swell of the ocean reminds me how powerful the sea is and how completely awesome and dangerous nature can be.
I also love it because the ship is lovely and quiet without everyone milling around moaning about this and complaining about the other. I’m not sure if it’s an age thing or whether it’s just the type of folk who cruise, but boy oh boy do some of these geriatrics know how to whinge?
It’s too hot or too cold in the cabin and despite the fact they have a thermostat they can control the temperature with they can’t be bothered. The foods too this or the entertainment is too that, the swimming pools not open (and even when it is no one goes in it) Nothing escapes their attention and no one is immune from scrutiny. Now here’s the interesting bit. In my experience those who complain the most are the biggest pains in the universe. They cough and sneeze without putting up a hand to capture their escaping germs, they refuse to queue, they talk with mouths full of food, they witter on incessantly about themselves and always load their plates with the last of the bananas, yes even if there are twenty left they take all twenty…….
So there you have it, the downside of cruising, but hey it’s not that bad really because it gives me loads of inspiration……….just like this –

The Perfectionist

All my life I’ve been perfect
And have always been one
To look up to and get good advice
I’m humble and caring, with generous streak
And I’m honest and truthful and nice

I’m always on time
And I’ve never been known
To be grumpy nor glare with distain
Unbelievably happy whatever life throws
And I’ve never been heard to complain

I never jump queues
And I keep my mouth shut
Whether chewing my lunch or some gum
Never leave the seat up
Never lewd or unkind
With my comments
And always such fun.

And I’m always polite
Unlike some I could name
Highly polished and cultured, so sweet
I am never too loud
And prefer just to sit
Never argue or boast to compete

So as you can see
Good as gold I have been
The ultimate husband and son
A model employee
An incredible friend
Unbelievably loyal, loved a ton

So when I go cruising
I feel duty bound
Not to act as my usual self
It’s a must that I let down what’s left of my hair
Leaving manners back home on the shelf

I must whinge, I must moan
And quite often I do
After all I’m just here on a break
From my usual life, it’s not easy you know
Cause it’s so very hard being this fake

So I’ll grunt a ‘Good Morning’
Cough and sneeze on your food
Fuss and moan like I don’t give a rat
You just have to accept that I’m playing a game
This is not really me
It’s an act.

Because unlike the rest
I’ve been perfect for years
This my chance to have oodles of glee
But then I’m assuming you’re doing the same
And being a pratt, just like me?
J.G. 5/2/13

WELL THAT’S WHAT I THINK ANYWAY (AHEM)

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