An Inspector Blogs:-
The latest 'gang of New York' was formed on 14th February 2009 with the Moles being last to join. Our flight was pleasant, but the much-lauded Virgin Atlantic entertainment system, unlike the plane, did not get off the ground. The crew, trying desperately to keep us entertained, even tried their own pub quiz at one stage with questions such as, 'What is the total age of the crew? and, 'What is the combined number of children the crew have?' Unfortunately, our general knowledge did not stretch to such topics!
There was a slight delay in meeting the travelers because of the fingerprinting, photographing and questions from the US Immigration service - but done in a more pleasant manner than we remember from previous trips. I could then be seen pulling two large suitcases steadily out of arrivals whilst two Mole females sprinted forward to envelop those waiting in hugs and kisses!! I got there in the end!
The party was separated again a short while later with the Moles going on their arranged hotel transport whilst the others took the traditional yellow cab. Soon after setting off in our arranged transport, we soon realised that the cab might have been a better idea. Our driver was very friendly and chatted to us continually, providing useful bits of information, but insisting on looking and pointing in the said direction at the same time - all at 80 mph. He strictly adhered to the little known law that requires the driver to use every available lane at least once every minute and that these changes should be made at the last moment before colliding with the vehicle in front. He excelled himself when we reached a toll and standing just the other side he spotted a law enforcement officer. At this, our driver quickly put on his seat belt, slid past the officer with a wave and then when in the clear and at eighty again, took off his seat belt! Grace, having just passed her test declared more than once in the journey that we were all going to die..........
Times Square was the first venue for the gang. It's a noisy, busy, bright and enjoyable place to be - sort of Leicester Square on some sort of drug with wall-to-wall yellow cabs and NYPD Officers thrown in. Planet Hollywood was the place for our first meal and it was just what we needed after a long day - potato skins to start, several drinks, birthday toasts for James and Naimh and the distribution of presents from James and Rois; what more could you ask for!! After the meal, the decision was then to walk to the Empire State Building to catch the view of NY by night (as recommended by Michael Schumacher on the way from the airport). Walking there, we were able to see this landmark lit pink and white for Valentine's Day. Patience was needed to negotiate the long security checks, exacerbated by the security guard searching my back-pack and finding the tin of seafood chowder James and Rois had brought for me from San Francisco; the guard did look puzzled! On reaching the top, the reward was a fantastic view of NY on a beautifully clear night which had to be seen to be believed; seeing this, you actually realise where you are..........
Sunday morning found the four Moles sitting down in Juniors restaurant for breakfast only to be told it was too late and they were onto lunch (they obviously don't cater for those who are jetlagged). The waiter, Todd, recommended the Galaxy Restaurant a few blocks away (did you realise 20 blocks equals a mile? Just one more good fact from Herr Schumacher!). What a favour Todd had done for us! A small place on 9th Avenue, but well worth the walk. All the staff there suggested that the place was obviously a clearing house for Mexican immigrants; not a lot of English spoken, but very good service and a good line in surly looks if you asked for something they did not understand. There was one young female there who was a sort of maitre d' and I feel sorry for any boyfriend she took home to meet the family! Reminded me of Friends with Joey and his sisters.........And so it was, we cemented our arrival in NY by having eggs over easy, corned beef hash, French toast with bacon and pancakes for breakfast!! It was wonderful except for the tea of course...........hot water in a cup and then dip a tea bag in???
Mass in St Patrick's followed breakfast. Beautiful church, lots of people there, Grandad Leahy would not have approved of all the hymns, but the requirement seemed to be to sing just the first verse of many......I was impressed by the collections (there was more than one) - baskets on very longs poles pushed along the pew by someone in the aisle. Very effective. Sunday afternoon was spent in a visit to the F A O Schwarz toy shop, the Plaza Hotel (both as seen in Home Alone) and a walk in Central Park. In the Park, we stood riveted at the ice rink watching it being cleaned..............we still don't know why we found it so interesting......and when the skaters were allowed back on the ice, we left!!? We took in Strawberry Fields and a visit to the apartment block where John Lennon died.
Chelsea was the area we chose to dine on Sunday night and it was there we found the most 'interesting' bar of the whole journey. It was called Limericks and as we agreed on the night, I won't be able to do it justice in words. It was Irish theme (of course) and it was a wonder we were allowed in as even I was too young! Plastic cloths covered the tables, fittings were from another age and one chap was entertaining customers playing a keyboard. Soon after we arrived, he was joined by an 87 year old lady singing and then another lady who was a spring chicken at no more than about 75 years! I was alone in the toilet when a regular walked in looked at and past me and said, 'Mike's got the cubicle door on then........'; further comments confirmed that this aid to privacy was indeed an innovation at Limericks. This tale was exceeded by Rois - on her return from the ladies, she described how theirs was one room, two toilet bowls next to each other and no partition!! Whilst it was a quirky place, we enjoyed our short stay and those there were very friendly and having a great time - if I'm having such a time at their age, I'll be very happy.
Dinner was at a good Italian place called Patsys - pizza recommended! James had to show his passport to get served alcohol.........
Monday was another beautiful, cold day - not a cloud in the sky. The whole gang started with a visit to Galaxy for breakfast; another impressive meal which set us up for the day. Actually, each day was the same - the breakfast, no lunch needed and then dinner. With the weather so bright, a visit to the top of the Rockefeller Centre was decided upon (Schumacher said Empire State at night, Top of the Rock by day - he was right again!). The visit started with a group photo on a steel girder - this will be on view at the Mole household. We took the lift to the top - this was an experience as the lift had a glass ceiling and we could see our progress up the shaft! Once outside, the view from the roof was indescribable - right across the city for miles and miles, the whole of Central Park, up and down both rivers; had to be seen to be believed. Following our view across the city, we walked to Grand Central Station, an impressive building and I can understand why it has been used for so many film locations. From there we took the Subway into Brooklyn - reasonably straightforward thanks to good planning by Niamh. Not very impressed by the Subway however, as it is in a poor state of repair and is quite dim, did not make us feel too comfortable. Going to Brooklyn was so we could walk back into Manhattan across the bridge- a wonderful suggestion by Niamh and Ed. As we started to cross, the sun was setting alongside the Statue of Liberty in the distance and made for a great sight and excellent photo opportunities. As we continued over the bridge, the lights were coming on in Manhattan - splendid view. On the other side, not far from the bridge is Ground Zero which was our next port of call; lots of building work going on and big plans for the future. On a wall is a plaque to commemorate all the firefighters killed there, their names listed; certainly made us think. To finish the day, it was cab ride back to near Times Square where we had dinner at a place called Broadway Joe's. This was an obviously Italian run place that served wonderful, huge steaks, albeit a bit pricey. There were some strong accents amongst the staff and many jokes were made as all felt Joe Pesci would be making an appearance along with some hitmen.
Tuesday was breakfast at a place called Juniors - famous for their cheesecakes, but we decided to be sensible and stick with the eggs, bacon, fried potatoes etc! Then the gang split - three off to Ellis Island and more, two shopping and James and I to the United Nations. The UN is on the East side and a reasonable walk from Times Square. Once inside the boundary of the UN, you're in another state - they have their own rules, their own security and their own stamps. So if you don't use the post box inside the UN, their stamps can not be used outside. We took a guided tour which was interesting with the best bit being to visit the General Assembly. Having seen it on TV so often it was quite something and a good opportunity for photos! Leaving the UN, we walked through the East side and decided that this would be a good area in which to live - nice looking apartments and shops. James and I did pop into Bloomingdales to see if we could see Bernie and Grace, but, as might be expected, we didn't. What a huge shop, but not doing much business! From there we walked across Park Avenue (some lovely looking homes around there!) to Central Park and down Fifth Avenue. Whilst strolling down Fifth, who did we see walking towards us? Dustin Hoffman! Just strolling along in trainers with his shopping bag, but turning heads all the way. The gang met up again in Greenwich Village at Washington Square which has the Washington Arch - a regular view on Friends. We started the evening in the Black Cat bar as it served half price drinks from 4 to 8, so it was jugs of lager all round! Niamh's travel guide described a restaurant that sounded good, Cornelia's Café, so that's where we went for dinner. And what a good choice - friendly and very efficient staff and wonderful food. Lamb shank for me, pecan topped pork was popular and Rois had chicken which was so good, it didn't taste anything like chicken I'd had before. I think everyone had a mouthful!! I think it was our best meal of the trip. The meal was followed by story telling in the basement which was a sort of open mic session for stories. Some were good, like the bloke who told of how he and a friend put on a WWF wrestling show at school and another who told of kite flying with his son, but others were not. Like the fireman who told of the rescue of a child from a fire, but the child died - I might be missing something, but that wasn't for me. Anyway, it was good experience and how many people can say they've been to that sort of event in Greenwich Village! After dinner drinks were had in another bar where we played the challenge of listing items under particular headings. An embarrassing moment for me as I found I could not list five ABBA songs………and does anyone out there think basil is a green food? For the males in the party, having been left by the girls, this was quite a late session, so it was the early hours when the cab dropped us in Times Square. James and I were approached three times on the walk to the hotel - once being offered girls, once about drugs and one guy actually said, 'Hey man, wassup………' Neither of us knew what the standard (or safe) answer to this was, so with a nervous half smile, we walked on!
Wednesday was the last morning for me, Bernie, Grace and our first overcast and rainy day. Because of packing, it was also a late start. So it was a pilgrimage to the Galaxy for the last time; a final hearty breakfast! As our transport was mid afternoon and it was raining, there was some hanging around and then a walk along 8th Avenue to visit Madison Sqaure Garden, but you couldn't get inside the arena and there was a book shop next door and more time was spent there than at MSG! Goodbyes to Rois, Niamh and Ed took place outside Pennsylvania Station and it was a very sad goodbye to James outside our hotel. With the pouring rain and heavy traffic, it was a long and quiet drive to JFK - luckily it wasn't Schumacher this time and anyway, even he would have been hard pushed to make any progress! The plane pushed back on time, but we were about an hour late leaving caused by a combination of wing de-icing and finding ourselves fifteenth in line waiting at the start of the runway. A straightforward journey.
It was a wonderful trip; fantastic to see the two travelers again, great company for the five days, we packed loads in, amazing food, plenty of drinks and NYC is recommended to everyone!