It was a short flight from Toronto to LaGuardia in New York. We had an absolutely wonderful landing into New York as the plane had to come in over Manhattan - the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Ground Zero, Statue of Liberty were clearly set out below us as we flew down the Hudson (thankfully not into it!) and around and up the East River taking us over Flushing Meadow and the old Shea Stadium as we made our way into the airport.
As the US has an arrangement with Canada to carry out all US immigration and customs formalities in Toronto, we had the easiest and ostensibly domestic, entry into the US. Before we knew it we were in the baggage reclaim hall where Pat & Todd were there to meet us. Although we'd seen Pat about 5 years ago when she visited us in Ashtead with her niece Stephanie, we hadn't seen Todd since 1999 so it was great to see them both looking so fit and well. LaGuardia is actually on Long Island but it was still a longish drive to Northport where Pat & Todd live. This is a nice New England style town right on the waterfront looking over to Connecticut. It was cold and there was plenty of snow on the ground after a heavy snowfall a few days before. Once inside their lovely house, which we'd only had a glimpse of during a Skype video call, we met their dog, Halle, a Briard (French sheep dog). It was then catch-up time over lovely spicy Thai chicken, good beer and wine.
Although the reason for our visit was to see Pat & Todd, we were staying longer than planned so had pencilled in a few days for New York. Leaving early (for us) next morning, on his way to work Todd gave us a lift to a local station where we caught the train into Penn Station. While making our way along Long Island we had wonderfully different views (from our previous day's flight) of Manhattan and the famous skyline. It was fantastic to be back in New York, and feel the hustle and bustle of the city.
Our thoughts were to visit some of the sights we hadn't seen as well as revisit some we had and a key target for that day was the Metropolitan Museum of Art just off Central Park. So making our way through the city we stopped by Macy's (largest department store in the world), an optician (where E bought glasses to replace those lost in Peru), Grand Central Station (to admire the grand ticketing hall and concourses), Chrysler Building (where, apart from enjoying the classic Art Deco styling of the exterior, you can go inside to see the decorative foyer at close quarters) and St Patrick's Cathedral (a Gothic Revival building built 150 years ago). By then we still had two thirds of our walk to go reach the Met. Fighting the biting cold we eventually made it to what is a stunning collection of everything ART and spent a few hou rs wandering around a collection that could take days to see properly. Absolutely wonderful and - together with AGO (in Toronto) - our desire for modern and impressionist art was being realised after nearly 5 months of medieval/religious stuff in South America which, to be fair, is good but rather heavy going. We ate in the city at Pete's Tavern which is one of the city's oldest - we'd visited it 13 years ago to sample their fine ales!
With Todd planning to take Friday and Monday off work, we went back to NY on Thursday to revisit the Empire State Building (still wonderful), enjoy watching ice skaters in the city's parks, the opticians (to collect E's specs), and the American Museum of Natural History which was one of our main objectives for the day. It was huge and had so many interesting exhibits that we hadn't really allowed enough time especially when we just had to watch a good 30 minute planetarium film about cosmic collisions. We were shuttled out the door at closing time still having much to see. Friday was spent around Northport and Todd did a BBQ - our second one in freezing conditions over the previous two months - cooking his famous 'football' (a huge steak rolled in salt) and it was gorgeous. After some beer and wine we rolled down the hill to the theatre in Northport to see The Foreigner. Some of us struggled to keep awake for the first act which took a little time to get going and set the scene. But after the break and refreshed by gin & tonics and exceptionally large glasses of wine, we got the plot and The Foreigner turned out to be a good hoot.
One of the notable Long Island things we'd always wanted to see was The Hamptons, that exclusive area that was famous from books and films - and which M, when she was a kid, had thought was just a fictional place. It was a beautifully clear and crisp sunny day as the four of us - with Halle in the back - drove east to explore The Hamptons, which we discovered consists of a number of small towns, each one more exclusive and expensive than the last. First, we stopped at South Hampton where we all enjoyed Halle having a run on the beach, before finding our way to the last and most exclusive of all, East Hampton (hmmm - kept expecting to see Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn sitting on their porch). A very attractive town with lots of historic buildings all of which but one were closed for winter, the interesting small Osborne-Jackson House which dates from c. 1740. But not much to see of the really huge houses of the rich and famous as these are all hidden away in gated communities.
Earlier, when we'd discussed with Pat and Todd the things we wanted to see in New York they said that there were some things they'd also like to see again. So we decided to go into the city together to visit Ground Zero and MOMA (Museum of Modern Art). We'd met Pat's son Tom and his wife Tara a few times before, both in the US and the UK so we were pleased when they suggested meeting up with them at MOMA. Our first stop on a bitterly cold morning was Ground Zero where the enormous gap left by the WTC Twin Towers and neighbouring buildings is just immense. Standing right next to the Twin Towers, St Paul's Chapel amazingly suffered no damage when the Towers came down, not even one window was broken. The Chapel played a major role on and after 9/11, first as a refuge and rest area for the workers, firemen, police, etc who were undertaking the rescue work and subsequently as a place of memorial. It has a very special feel to it today which embodies a very warm community spirit - exactly what churches and religion should be about. We then went to the nearby Ground Zero Museum which has exhibits, photos and film of the World Trade Centre and 9/11 events. It is a very moving museum especially when so much of what can be seen occurred only a few years ago and is a reminder of the enormity of the tragedy.
MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) is another vast art collection and a major attraction in the city. It was good to meet up with Tom & Tara and their children Cassie and Alex (the children were the only MOMA members). After lunch we took in some of the galleries. One is attracting much attention - Pippilotti Rist's film is a feature where you are invited to take off your shoes and lounge on a massive red 'doughnut' of a sofa and watch large ongoing films on three walls. Not surprisingly Alex (Tom & Tara's younger child) was terrified by the sight of a huge wild boar and a close-up of its snout and mouth! Another gallery was displaying art by Marlene Dumas and while some pieces were disturbing, others were extremely interesting. Obviously the children didn't have the stamina to spend a lot of time so Tom and Tara said their goodbyes leaving us and Pat & Todd to take in a wide range of art by Warhol, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Rodin, Gauguin, Munch, to name but only a few.
On Monday Todd drove us around the immediate area and Todd's workplace at Cold Spring Harbor (yes - Billy Joel's home town and title of his first album) at the DNA research station established bt Dr James Watson who discovered DNA. Later Halle had another chance of a run around in a neighbourhood that doesn't have many open spaces for dogs to run freely. Over the weekend we'd been on the lookout for a haggis to celebrate Rabbie Burns' birthday. Unfortunately New York and Long Island are rather devoid of Scottish fare (we even found a dearth of Scotch whiskies at JFK when we flew out) so the best we could do was salmon. Beforehand we popped into one of the locals for a drink, then it was back home for the traditional meal of - roast salmon, sauted potatoes, and asian slaw. Bet Rabbie would have loved it - even if it was a day late!
Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Pat! Yes it was Pat's birthday on Tuesday and we'd be going out at night. As Todd was back at work, and E had planned to return to NY to use his already bought ticket for the Guggenheim Museum, M and Pat went for lunch and a visit to the Vanderbilt house/museum in nearby Centreport. Pat and M had more luck than E because despite checking the website, the Guggenheim was as good as closed with only 2 of its 7 galleries open. As it was Pat's birthday and conveniently Tom was working in the area, he was able to join us for a meal in Northport. Back home - and Tom safely on his 2 hour journey back to New Jersey as thick snow was forecast - it was time for Pat's birthday cake that Todd had baked the previous evening (how had he done it after the beer, wine, whisky, etc we'd consumed!).
We awoke next morning to thick snow and heavy skies - and wondering whether our flight back home to the UK would be cancelled, but soon it was off to the airport. We'd had a great time with Pat & Todd and North America, particularly as coming here had been a last minute decision. Most of all we can honestly say we've had a great time in the Americas since August 2008. Next stop Dublin, then Worcester Park and the next phase of our life.
Lots of love
E & M xxx