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Sunday, February 19, 2012


This week started every bit as good as the previous one ended.  I returned to work on Tuesday to the news that my lovely niece, Emma, got engaged.  Her very romantic boyfriend, now fiance, took her on a day trip to Paris, proposed at the top of the Eiffel Tower, and she accepted.  To continue with the romantic theme, Samantha and Edward registered their marriage, exactly five years after their first date, on Valentine's Day, which means that they move into their first home together as husband and wife.  This was enough to keep me on a high, following my fantastic weekend in the Big Apple.

Just before Thanksgiving, last year, my cousin, Lesley, had made mention of an impending trip, and Samantha had suggested she could tag along as a tour guide.  After a brief discussion, through emails, we realised that the possibility was a probability, and were graciously invited to gatecrash the party.  
Edward took us to the Airport on Thursday morning, and we boarded the plane.  I was remarkably calm, and managed to sit back and enjoy the first leg of our journey.  Our connection was not at Kansas City, which was, in a way, a blessing, as our boarding time was fifteen minutes before we landed, although I was assured by the airline, that this was an 'acceptable time' to transfer.  Much as I was looking forward to the weekend, the plane from which we disembarked was going to Milwaukee, and as Wisconsin is on my 'next to see' list, I was ready to re board.  However, we had plans and my seat was probably already taken, so we took the opportunity to have our picnic lunch, in the boarding area.  On our flight from Missouri to LaGuardia, we were offered a thirty minute in flight Internet trial.  With two computers, this meant we had an hour between us, and we spent the time posting pictures, on line, of views from 30,000 feet, as well as the internal layout of the aircraft, and then answering several questions as to how we could do this whilst in the air.  We disembarked about fifteen minutes behind scheduled arrival time and walked through to the exit, and went towards the Taxi Rank.  As we reached the line, a young woman pushed past to get in front of us, to become tenth in line instead of eleventh! Without a word of thanks, or apology, from the impatient female, I looked at Samantha;  'We're not in Kansas, anymore, Dorothy', I whispered.  The guard hailing cabs was equally as impatient, although the driver seemed to have a little more grace.  Unfortunately, he could not understand me, and as I said 'Skyline', he repeated 'Carlisle', at every intersection.  Fortunately, we had the address, so we did manage to arrive at our destination in a reasonable time.  'Skyline, you should have said!', was the final word from the driver. 
Check in was quick and easy.  Our room was clean and pleasant, albeit the view was a white brick wall, although craning the neck did give a slightly better scene.  After going round with the Clorox wipes, and unpacking, we went downstairs to explore.  It was freezing.  To be more precise, it was a few degrees below freezing and I was pleased that I chose warmth over fashion.  As the hotel did not have any kettles or coffee making facilities in the room, we mapped out the nearest dispensers of hot liquids, and waited for Lesley and Co., to arrive.  The grand reunion took place a little after nine, and after lots of hugs with the cousins, Charlotte and Natalie, and introductions to Lesley's friends, Harjit and Adele, we went up to their rooms, before returning downstairs for a snack and informal itinerary discussion. Absolutely exhausted, we all said goodnight and went to bed.
The next morning, Samantha and I rose early.  I was going to go swimming.  At 7.10am, there was another couple in the pool, and I greeted them brightly, and eagerly.  The lack of response reminded me that I was not in Austin, and strangers do not pass the time of day with each other in every town.  I swam, in silence, and waved to Samantha as I reached the end of each lap, then left the pool wishing all who were within hearing range, a 'nice day', and we wrapped up warm, and went to get a cup of coffee.  Pointing to the amount on the till, let me know how much was owed.  I cheerily thanked the shopkeeper and we made our way back across the road.  We returned to the room, and after a shower and a quick tidy around the room, we left for our 9am meeting in the lobby.  As I entered the elevator, I greeted those already inside.  'Hi; how you doing?', was responded to with a grunt.  At last, I thought, progress; an acknowledgment! 

The concierge was very pleasant.  We asked about shows, restaurants, and directions to stores.  She obliged with maps and information. Tickets to the Lion King were available, and she could get us a very good discount for excellent seats.  My initial response of, 'that sounds good', was followed by Samantha's dilemma of whether to administer the smelling salts before, or after, I had paid.  Scooping me off the floor, she held me upright as I got my purse out of my bag, and pulled out four notes.  Admittedly one was smaller in value than the other three, but this did not stop my fingers sticking to them.  As the concierge pulled, and smiled, I gripped, and smiled.  Eventually, she won.  As everyone else paid for their tickets, Samantha gave me a short therapy session, and I assured her that I had allowed for the expense, although it was a little more than I had expected.  We were in New York City, and we were going to see a show on Broadway.  Wrapping up, once again, in my coat, hat, gloves, scarf and shawl, I left the building repeating to myself, 'you are on vacation; you are on vacation!'  The restaurant that was recommended for breakfast, was interesting.  The wait staff were all aspiring actors, and took turns in singing karaoke, in between serving breakfast.  The bucket by the exit was for donations towards acting lessons; said bucket was then brought round to each booth, and shaken, lightly at first, and if this was not enough encouragement, more vigorously, until someone at the table dropped a bill into the receptacle. 

We paid the bill, and although breakfast was good, personally, I could have done without the entertainment.  'I am on vacation; I am on vacation', I repeated, and reminded myself that experiences do not come cheap!  However, everything is relative.  New York City is at least a third more expensive than Austin, yet cheaper than London, and I considered the fact that eight years ago, I would have thought most things here to be very reasonable. 
The Rockefeller Center was our first stop, but my photo opportunities were short lived, with the demise of my new camera.  As if rebelling against the cold, the telescopic lens stuck half way out, and refused to move.  Samantha was going to have to be my official photographer, as well as my tour guide, and we continued on our way.  Comfortable shoes are always recommended when extraordinary amounts of walking are the order of the day, and even more so when walking for several miles the wrong direction.  My new boots lived up to their reputation, and I did not suffer blisters or sores.  With two pairs of socks, and the addition to my attire of a pair of earmuffs, I was very content, despite the lack of a camera.  I could have done without the snow, but we were in New York City, in February. 
After several hours, we found a lifesaver.  The subway is out of the wind, and cuts out unnecessary corners.  Unfortunately, the ticket office attendant considered us to be of a lower intelligence level than a stuffed animal, and thought it a waste of time to explain why he had only given me one ticket, when I had asked for two.  The patience of the locals was wearing thin, and we decided not to risk the wrath of the city dwellers by insisting on further instruction. Surprisingly enough, once we were enlightened, through self tuition, that the ticket worked like a gift card, which could be refilled at any time, and any amount of people could go through on one ticket provided there was enough money to cover each fare, life became a lot more simple.  Now all we had to do was decide whether we were going 'uptown' or 'downtown'.  Charlotte and Samantha seemed to be able to decipher the maps, having given up on the iphone, as it appeared to be somewhat directionally challenged. 

Finding the World Trade Center and Ground Zero gave us a new found confidence, and we leaped from train to train, as if we had been doing it forever, reaching the Liberty Island Ferry just in time to catch the last boat.  Braving the weather, we headed for the top deck and took our seats for the ride across the bay.  Samantha had packed her mini tripod, and set it up so that we could have a group photo by the large green lady, who stood above us in the center of the island.  Lesley and I had a photo, 'for the mums', and our girls had one 'for the grandmas'.   Back on the boat, we decided to sit downstairs, and inside.  Discussing our next stop, and future plans, our conversation regarding 'Jersey Shores' was interrupted by a tap on Samantha's shoulder.  'It's closed', said the woman who was seated behind.  'We wanted to go but they said the area was closed, as it's winter'.  She continued to tell us that her, her husband and their daughter, together with her daughter's friend, were in New York, on vacation, for ten days.   'Where are you from?' we asked.  I was not at all surprised to hear they were from Texas.  Dallas to be precise.  After a few more exchanges, we continued discussing our itinerary.  'Can I have your phone number', said Mrs Ewing.  'My daughter wants to do everything that you are doing'.  The young girl sat, expectantly.  We said she was welcome to join us, and with no one quite willing to say, 'are you serious', all with the exception of Mrs Ewing's expectant daughter, laughed slightly half-hearted.  The boat came to a very turbulent halt, and bumped into the jetty with such force that we got to know most other people on the boat rather too personally! 
I did not get to play on the 'Big' Piano, in FAO Schwarz, but Charlotte did get to play 'mom' to a living, breathing, doll, helped by the 'maternity nurse', who took the doll back before it became 'unsettled'.  Slightly unnerved, I moved along to the next section.  Warmed up sufficiently, we left to go into the cold again.  A ride around Central Park in a horse drawn carriage was not appealing, despite the offer of a rather suspicious looking blanket.
We finished our day with a trip to the Kardashian's store, where the items on sale made the theatre tickets seem like a very reasonable deal, and then to the Wooster Street Social Club, which is the home of NY Ink.  Spending my holidays searching out Tattoo shops is becoming a little too commonplace.  With a t-shirt from the Ink Stop, and a lip balm from Dash, we left the Soho area, thankfully, and headed back towards Time Square.  Entering the Hard Rock Cafe, the general consensus was that a drink at the table, with dinner, would be preferable to a drink at the bar, and dinner elsewhere.  We were silently convinced that if we sat down, we would not get up again. Dinner was delicious, and worth waiting for, and we headed back to the hotel, with a stop for a cup of tea at the 'deluxe deli' which was the 'other' convenience store opposite our temporary home.  Having been out for about fourteen hours, we were all very happy to fall into bed.

Much as I enjoy swimming, I decided that with all the exercise I had the previous day, I would forego my early morning dip, and instead went to the 'deluxe deli' for a superior cup of coffee.  My 'hey, how you doing', received not only a smile, but also a 'good, how are you'.  A large cup of coffee, and a hot chocolate for $2 was my kind of good start to the day.  The wind was bitter ,and the temperature promised to stay well below zero again, but I was prepared.  Today, we were going shopping.  Although we had said that we would perhaps 'do our own thing', Samantha and I decided that we would join the girls in a trip to Bloomingdale's, as it is one of the few stores that has not reached Austin.  Breakfast was at Applebees.  I have eaten many times at this restaurant, but never for breakfast.  I was not disappointed.  Having been recharged, we walked for several miles, again, and found the store that appears to be the most popular.  Having a last minute 'Ugg' boot run, before my trips home, I was not surprised that one of our stops was going to be for the Australian footwear.  The variety was vast, and our sales assistant was very friendly, and very chatty.  We told him that we were not shopping as the tax was much higher than our home town.  DiMarco could hardly contain his excitement at meeting fellow (adopted) Texans.  'I am from Dallas', he beamed.  Chatting like old friends, we told him of the family on the boat, and how no one says 'howdy', around the city that never sleeps.  We left, not all empty handed, and reached the store with the 'Brown bags' of all sizes.  Arranging to meet in little over an hour, we went our separate ways in Bloomingdale's, and Samantha and I wandered around drinking in the atmosphere, and the odd drops of perfume, which were sprayed, without prejudice, by salesmen hoping to achieve a sale.  Not consciously aiming at mouths and eyes, they seemed surprised when we declined the that were only special today. 
We took the subway to Macy's, then walked to Grand Central Station, where we aptly took a train, back to Serendipity, having booked a table 90 minutes earlier.  The frozen hot chocolate was interesting, yet not quite what I had expected. The other desserts were, apparently, wonderful.  A pot of tea and a bowl of melted ice cream gave us the additional energy needed to complete the shopping trip, and find Samantha's choice for dinner, the Stage Deli.  Who would have thought that a bowl of soup and half a sandwich would have been too much food, but sandwiches half a foot deep are rather filling!  The Irish pub opposite was perhaps not as good a choice, as triple strength cocktails were more of a hindrance than a help, and the walk back to the hotel was full of giggles, but oh so long!  Another fourteen hour trek had come to an end.
Sunday was Samantha's highlight.  Having had a cup of coffee from our new best friend at the deluxe deli, earlier in the morning, we returned again, in our party of seven, and bought some breakfast items to take on our trip across the State line.  We took the train to Holbolken, New Jersey, ate our breakfast, before seeing the sign that said, 'strictly no food on the train', and walked the two blocks to Carlo's Bakery, home of Cake Boss.  Samantha has been influenced by 'Buddy's' creations and watches the reality programme with regularity.  Preparing ourselves for a long queue, we were pleasantly surprised when we found we were third in line.  Nine thirty on a Sunday morning, too cold to snow, braving the wind, we were waiting in line for the doorman to usher us into a cake shop.  Once inside, we were given tickets, and waited for our number to be called.  Everyone was very friendly and helpful.  The cakes looked delicious. Having made our purchases, we left, but not before taking a photo from every angle.  The queue was now much longer, and I was looking forward to tasting our wares, to see if it was indeed worth the journey.  Stopping at the Dunkin Donuts for coffee, donuts, hash browns and bagels, we decided to promote the small coffee shop, attempting to give it as much fame as the bakery.  Unfortunately our enthusiasm fell on deaf ears, and no one appeared to be interested, least of all the staff!  We headed back to the station and purchased our tickets back to the neighbouring state.  Not one of the eight ticket machines would accept Samantha's pass, and as she ran from one end to the other, we foresaw her staying in the Garden State for the duration of our trip. 'Jump the barrier', I shouted.  'I will get arrested'; she responded.  'Go under, then'; I shouted.  'I will still get arrested'; she responded.  Eventually, she looked both ways and leapfrogged over the turnstile.  We went down the stairs, boarded the train, and before we left a guard stepped onto the carriage.  Samantha and I held our breath.  He pressed some buttons and left.  We breathed again!
Our afternoon was cut short.  Charlotte had decided not to come with us to Holbolken, so we met her at the Mall, and then had a quick snack for lunch, before going back to the hotel to get ready for our evening trip to Broadway.  Samantha and I went to the local Dunkin Donuts (not a patch on the Holboken store) and attempted to check in for our flight home, which was in 24 hours.  We managed to secure seats, but could not check in, and ran back to the hotel, leaving just enough time to get changed into our glad rags, which were covered by layers of additional clothing to fight the elements.  I missed the group photo as I was arguing with a representative from the airline.  I could not understand why I could not check in, and he was not being particularly helpful.  Marching up and down in the foyer of the hotel was not intentional, but I had gone into autopilot.  I was arranging my trip home and was starting to go into panic mode.  Unable to get satisfaction, and completely out of character, I gave up, and put down the phone.  Nothing was going to spoil my evening.  I was going to enjoy every cent I had paid for the tickets!  Grateful that I had the foresight to pack an elegant, yet sensible, pair of boots, we walked in the snow to the theatre.  The show was fantastic.  We passed on the restaurant recommendation made by the concierge, for dinner after the show, and went to the Olive Garden.  Not as posh, but extremely good, we enjoyed a post show meal, and decided on a last day plan, so that we could make the most of the few hours we had before having to go to the airport. 

I called the airline shortly after midnight, and spoke to a very helpful lady, who explained the situation and made sense of why I was unable to check in.  I went to bed a much happier person. 

Our last day was eventful, but I will not go into details now.  With all that has happened during this week, I will leave the details, of which there are many, as....another story.

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