Archive for January, 2014

Returned and Edited

Posted in Uncategorized on January 22, 2014 by David Palmer

Since returning from our trip to the USA I have read and edited the errors in the blogs and added photos. Each blog was written at the end of each day, just before I lay my head on the pillow, not surprisingly in my rush to visit the land of dreams quite a few typos crept in.
Yesterday Nan took Sue, Sarah, Charlotte, Ellis and I to the Langton Inn for a lovely and much-needed lunch. I had good old English bangers and mash. Afterwards we had coffee at home and gave the presents that we had brought back.
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When Nan, Charlotte and Ellis left, I trotted off to bed to re-acquaint myself with Mr Old-pillow. Later in the afternoon I phoned Jamie hoping that he would be coming around so that I could see his new car, but he was playing soccer and promised to come tomorrow. That evening we watched TV and had an early night.

I was the first to wake and after a coffee was on my bike for some much-needed exercise and spare tyre reduction. On my return Sue was well into her second load of washing. After a shower I went onto the roof of the garage to repair the repair I had made the day before our holiday. It had rained as soon as I had finished spreading the asphalt onto the gully that was leaking and had washed it away (sooooo annoying). I cleaned it out again, dried it with a heated paint stripper gun and then re-applied the asphalt. Fingers crossed.

I was hoping to finish quickly as we had planned to go to the cinema and see Philomena, but as luck would have it I was still smoothing the asphalt layer when Sue and Sarah left.

NY-3

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21, 2014 by David Palmer

Woke to a slightly warmer morning than yesterday. After a couple of coffees the first task was to go on-line with my tablet (very fast, free WiFi in the room) and check in on our flight this evening. With that accomplished, I took our passports etc. from the safe deposit box in reception and then completed packing in the room. With that done we decided to visit Central Park for the last time.

The earlier blue sky had started to cloud over, but the temperature remained pleasant for walking. On the News last night we heard that a winter storm was forecast for this evening with snow accumulation of several feet, hopefully we will be gone before then. We stopped at a few stores on the way to the park and marvelled at the meat counters, the cut of all the meats were ridiculously thick compared to UK standards and is no wonder why your average American is so huge.
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Once in the park we attempted to walk those paths that we had not done previously and we stopped and chatted to a few of the many squirrels that were busy among the leaf litter hunting for nuts. They are very tame and will stop and look at you if you talk to them. Inspired by the squirrels nut hunting I bought a couple of bags of warm toffee coated nuts from the many temporary stalls that are prevalent throughout the park. Sue was so impressed with them that when she had finished scoffing her bag, she bought another one. No we didn’t feed the squirrels, they tasted too nice to share. A little later we came across some artists stalls and we bought a couple of framed photos of the park.
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Returning to the hotel for noon we checked out of our room and sat in the bar and had lunch while we waited for our transfer to the airport. It arrived 10 minutes early and with 7 other passengers we squeezed into a minibus that was uncomfortably hot, but thankfully the journey wasn’t as long as we were anticipating. Around half an hour later, despite heavy midtown traffic we were dragging our cases into JFK. As I had already checked in on-line I printed our boarding cards out from one of the terminals at the entrance than dropped our suitcases off at the Delta Desk. That was the quick and easy bit. From there on we joined the queue to pass through security and passport control. The signage at JFK is the worst we have experienced in all the years we have been travelling through airports. It just added to the confusion of endless lines of passengers having to rely on staff actually physically moving people around. If you stood and watched for a while as we did, you could work out what the procedure was and where to go next. But passengers late for flights or those who don’t pay attention just added to and created a massive backlog. Understandably the airport is manic on security. I would be if I had just spent the last 50 years or so bombing the hell out of great numbers of the Earth’s population. But come on, you don’t have to be Havard educated to put up a few arrows pointing in the direction you want people to go. Plus, the rather sophisticated body scanner we went through, we think wiped the electromagnetic data off our return rail tickets in the UK.

Well, eventually fully dressed and feeling tired, we found a seat at our departure gate and waited the couple of hours for our flight. Sue managed a tour of the duty-free and I a comfortable sit down in a bar with a pint of porter and watched the planes take off and land. We boarded the plane without hassle and took of on schedule. We were surprised that the flight appeared to be only a quarter full so there was plenty of space to spread out. After dinner, Sue settled down to watch a film and I stretched across the centre seats (we had a pair of window seats) and I went to sleep until woken an hour before landing, for breakfast.
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Passage through Heathrow was quick and easy though at passport control I chose to use the epassport facilities and Sue used the normal one as her passport was older. There was no difference in speed, we exited at the same time. Surprise, surprise a human being can check the picture on the passport and match it to the face of the person standing in front of them as quick as a machine.

A relatively empty train was waiting on the platform to take us to St. Pancras. The closer we got to the city the greater the number of commuters boarded. We English are refreshingly quieter that the Americans. Not a word was said in our carriage over the 3/4 hour journey, despite being jammed towards the end. We had a couple of hours to waste at St. Pancras so we had drinks in a cafe and waited it out. Luckily there is free and fast WiFi throughout the station so I didn’t get bored and Sue read the Metro. We had reserved seats on the train and it was direct to Harborough. A very fast but bumpy journey as I attempted to write this blog.

Sarah picked us up from the station and Nan kindly offered to take us out for lunch. We said yes, of course.

NY-2

Posted in Uncategorized on January 20, 2014 by David Palmer

We woke for 8am to a bright blue sky and what looked like a cold day. We were not wrong, the temperature remained around -2 until late in the afternoon when it crept up to +2.

After a couple of cups off coffee we enquired at the Concierge Desk as to where we could catch a tour bus. Armed with the knowledge and my phone SatNav we set off for Times Square. Oooooooooooo…… it was chilly! My poor little hands soon got so cold with checking on the phone map, annoyingly the touch screen doesn’t respond to gloved fingers. However, we were soon there as nothing seems very far from our hotel.
Spotting a guy with a poster advertising the tours we bought our tickets from him and his partner took us to where the bus was waiting. After a 10 minute very cold wait the bus set off with nearly a full load of tourists. As we were on of the first on the bus we positioned ourselves just behind the canopy as to benefit from its shelter yet still be able to take photos freely.
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We were the only ones to stay on for the full route as people got on and off at the various stops. Our route was roughly a circular one of Manhattan and covered all the famous attractions and many that we had never heard of. The journey took around 2 hours and despite dressing appropriately we get very cold. Towards the end I had taken so many pictures that my battery warning light was flashing.

When we were set down in Times Square we found ourselves outside the Marriott hotel. I had heard about its restaurant which revolved, giving splendid views of the city. Travelling up the express lift to the 47th floor we found ourselves outside the appropriately named “The View’ restaurant. Being a Sunday they were doing a Sunday brunch (buffet). We had to wait for a few minutes to see if a table was available and as luck would have it, we got a table next to the window. We had perfect views as we ever so slowly rotated round. Brunch came with unlimited glasses of champagne or champagne spritzer, but started first with two cups of hot coffee to warm up. The food was as would be expected in such a location as excellent and I personally stuffed myself (good at that now). I even had a plateful of cakes and puddiny things. We finished it off with some more champagne spritzers followed by hot coffee.
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We wandered around Times Square for a while longer and did some shopping. We then found Macey’s and did some more shopping. On the return journey to our hotel we stopped in Central Park and bought a framed picture. With tired feet, back at the hotel we had coffee and hunted a while for the key to the lock in my suitcase that has been lost. I guess it had been hoovered up by the chambermaid during the afternoon (good job we have a plan B).

Later on we went for a walk around the local area. We walked down 9th Street which turned out to be the eating district, it was full of bars and restaurants. they were all packed and there was many would be customers walking the streets, no doubt looking for a vacant table, we didn’t spot many. On return to the hotel we camped in the bar and Sue sampled a cider called Angry Orchard, it must have been good as she had two bottles. I stuck to my usual, a glass of water. We sat and watched a football match (American), Seattle were playing San Francisco and it seemed a contentious game among the many guys also watching in the bar. Incidentally, it is the Superbowl in two weeks, you cannot fail to notice it as Maceys have a huge display of all the competing teams, Times Square has a lot of works going on that will turn it into Superbowl Square (I kid you not) and all the shops seem to have some display of sorts in their window of it. Having watched a lot of adverts tonight and very little football action, I fail to see the attraction. And, I confess to having played one game of it in the 70’s, in New York State, and I thought it was a silly game then.
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After a quick look around the hotel shop we hit was a comfortable bed, but I do miss Mr Pillow, he will always hold a special place in my heart. Today in Macey’s, we interrogated a rather confused haberdashery assistant as to the possible purchase of one of Mr Pillow’s relatives. But she had not idea as to his lineage, Macey’s appear to only stock duck-down. How back ward, and this country put a man on the moon? Oh yeah! In Universal studios for sure.

NY-1

Posted in Uncategorized on January 19, 2014 by David Palmer

After an excellent show the previous night, we returned to our cabin, finished packing and put our cases in the corridor in readiness for the crew to store them.

We woke, showered and dressed at 6am and were in break fast for 6.30am in the Lido with a surprising number of other passengers.
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After our last full English on board, we returned to the cabin and watched our entry into the Hudson River from our balcony. As we approached the Bay bridge we went on deck to photograph it and the Statue of Liberty as we passed by. A good many photos and video were shot before the ship was berthed next to the USS Enterprise with Concorde alongside.
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Disembarkation took a time, we were due to exit the ship at 10.30am but slow customs and immigration meant that for our group this didn’t happen until after 11.30am. After queueing and laboriously passing through passport control we found our taxi and were soon on our way to the Holiday Inn on 57th Street. Check in at the hotel was quick though we did take the wrong elevator to our room and had to return to ground 0 and start again. After checking the room and noticing that it was snowing outside we returned to reception to deposit passports and valuables into a safe deposit box.
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Using the SatNav on my phone we took a short walk to the Columbus Statue end of Central Park. Ignoring the rather persistent cycle-cab touts we set off to DO the park. We meandered along the paths with other tourists and New Yorkers, of which there was a great many as it was a holiday weekend. There was still evidence of last weeks snow in little piles stacked up in readiness to be moved by the Parks Department, who seemed to be everywhere. We came across a crowd watching an ice carving demonstration and then a little later on a wedding taking place outside a castle. The bride was wearing bright red and black and it looked very nice. Later on we were to see another wedding taking place by some waterfalls , and that bride was also wearing bright red. There are quite a few lakes in the park which all except the largest, were frozen. At the very other end of the park is Harlem and here we stopped to watch an ice hockey game among girls around the age of 9 or 10 (I guess), they were very good. On our return journey we were stopped by a concerned lady who thought we appeared lost. She didn’t seem to understand that we had just walked the length of the park and were going to do the same back. She insisted on letting us know how to catch the bus back and also where the nearest Starbucks was as we must have looked emaciated (oh yeah?) I resisted the temptation to mention that I do not patronise American companies that make huge profits in the UK but fail to pay their taxes. She stayed with us for quite a while, so we set off in the direction indicated and when she was out of sight, we returned to our meandering. We stopped at the Boat Restaurant by one of the lakes for a rest and coffee and there we met a couple from the Queen Elizabeth (small world). When the light faded and the buildings around us began to glow, we set off back to the hotel.
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On the way back to the room we stopped at the Concierge desk and got him to check which shows were available (if any) for that night. We were in luck and managed to get two tickets for ‘Chicago’ at the Ambassador Theatre on 49th Street. The performance started at 8pm and was walkable in 10 minutes he said. My SatNav said 19 minutes. We hurried to our room to get changed and then had proper American Fayre in the hotel lounge bar, burgers, chips and salad. They were huge. We met and chatted to two of our dinner table partners who were staying at our hotel for a few moments before scoffing as much as we could and then setting off to the theatre. It took around 15 minutes.

We collected our (very expensive) tickets from the Ticket office and then found our way to our seats. It is a very old theatre and not very large. The seats are jammed together like RyanAir and there is no, absolutely no leg room. We must have had the last two tickets as the auditorium was full, not a seat left. In the UK you would expect the audience to 90% middle to old age, 10% younger. It was the reverse here, most of our fellow spectators were in their teens or early 20’s. Of course the clapping was always accompanied with outlandish whooping, and I must confess in such a small space it did add to the atmosphere and wasn’t at all annoying (for once). Well what of the play/musical? It was outstanding. The songs, the dances, the jokes, the set, the movement and the acting were as I could see from our seats smack in the centre of the Auditorium, perfectly performed. Absolutely loved it. If it didn’t cost so much, we would do it again tomorrow.
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It was rather chilly and close to midnight on our walk back to the hotel and bed.

QE-8

Posted in Uncategorized on January 17, 2014 by David Palmer

A storm blew up during the night and woke us both up with the increased rocking motion of the ship. However, when we woke up again the sea was calm with no evidence of any maelstrom other than a wet balcony.

After breakfast in the Britannia restaurant we took a turn a round the deck, this time stopping for a game of shuffle board (We played up to 100 points) and on the return I whacked a few golf balls in the practise nets (Sue wasn’t very impressed when I kept missing the ball). We then found our way to the first lecture of the day that Sue had planned. ‘The Orca’, yet another one on whales.

As soon as it finished we charged back to the Britannia as they were doing a tour of the kitchens. The were as expected, very clean, lots of chefs busy with their duties and though we saw but just a fraction of the area it was huge. We got little glimpses of how vast the kitchen is as we passed through those parts we were permitted.
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From there we galloped back up to the theatre for a lecture on ‘Grand Central Station’. Very interesting though I must confess I woke up when the final applause began. After that we sat through a presentation called ‘Virtual Bridge Tour’ which was conducted by 2 third officers. They were enthusiastic but we soon lost interest when they began to get too technical for the audience. We lasted until 1pm and then snook out for lunch.

Straight after lunch Sue went to watch a film called ‘The Way, Way Back’, while I filled in the disembarkation papers and checked the internet for some of the things to see on arrival. Before Mr Pillow could persuade me to give him a cuddle, Sue came back. As I was still on the net researching some of the places we were going to see in NY she went for a coffee. When she returned we had a stroll on deck, even though it was very chilly with a biting northerly gale (the ship was doing 25 knots into it) we made our way to the very top deck which had been out-of-bounds all cruise. From up there we discovered a lovely hidden patio with restaurant which afforded great views all the way around the ship. The sky was relatively clear with just a few wispy clouds and as the sun set I fired off a few photos that is sure to make National Geographic.

Dinner was informal, so informal that we dined alone. Our fellow table guests didn’t turn up which made service rather quick. We were one of, if not the first out of the dining room this evening. The advantage being that we had to pack in readiness for our suitcases to be whisked away at 11pm. We dock at 9.30am tomorrow. Arriving back at our cabin we found Jennifer our chamber maid still tidying the room. She has kept our room spotless all week and done it with a cheery smile and pleasant manner, so we increased her smile further with a large tip. “Thank you Mr David and Mrs Sue”, she said. How sweet.

After packing we went to the theatre for the final show and then an earlyish seminar with Mr Pillow.

QE-7

Posted in Uncategorized on January 17, 2014 by David Palmer

Choppy sea this morning.

Breakfast was taken in the waiter service, Britannia restaurant. We shared a table for six with knowledgeable multi-cruisers from the UK. It is interesting to hear of other passengers escapades, tips and warnings about cruising. I had a splendid breakfast of banana bread followed by haddock, eggs Benedict on muffins and ham. Yum, yum.

Sue had planned an exhaustive morning of lectures. First off was ‘Whales and Dolphin Strandings’, followed by ‘My Favourite Planet’ taken by our resident astronaut and finished off with ‘Immigrant, Radical and Notorious women of Washington Square.’ In between we managed a turn around the deck and a break for coffee. Sue also managed a visit to a seminar on diamonds.
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Lunch arrived and we took it in the Lido. I discovered the enjoyment of mushroom brioche and had seconds. Much to Sue’s annoyance I spotted two large schools of dolphin during lunch, but as the ship was presently doing 20 knots, by the time she had worked out where they were her long-sightedness had kicked in and they were out of range of her bat vision.

On return to the cabin I found I had lost my cabin card, but luckily on returning to the theatre I found it straight away underneath the seat I had been squirming on.

During the afternoon Sue went to the theatre to watch a French subtitled film called ‘Haute Cuisine’. It was about a chef at the Champs Elyse Palace. Fascinating I am sure, and Sue said it was enjoyable, but I am afraid it is against my religion to watch such Gallic claptrap, so I took my self to the Golden Lion pub, bought a refreshing pint of Speckled Hen and read my Biggles book (British and true!)
After around 40 minutes that old English pastime of Bingo began in the bar. I relocated to one of the lounges and listened to some magnificent violin playing for a while before moving on to our cabin to check on Mr Pillow.

After the film Sue and I went for coffee and managed to spot a couple of whales spouting off the port bow (getting very nautical now). On the way back to the cabin to continue our books I scoffed an ice-cream and Sue a plum.
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We dressed formally for the evening meal and all 6 of us were present. After the main course we had a parade of the chefs, the line seemed endless and my poor hands felt clapped out by the time they had returned to the kitchen. The entertainment in the theatre was a mixture of dance, singing, piano and comedy acts. Very entertaining. Afterwards we had Ovaltine in the Lido (must be getting old) and then returned to our cabin for the rest of the night.

QE-6

Posted in Uncategorized on January 16, 2014 by David Palmer

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We woke at 7.30am to clear skies and a calm sea. Breakfast was taken in the Lido and conscious of the effort it took to tighten my belt I made the effort to reduce the portion size I placed on my plate, though I spoiled it later by returning to the buffet and pigging a bit more. We were joined partway through our meal by a gentleman from Stamford. He was keen to chat and we soon discovered that he was an antiques collector, who now mainly dealt on the internet. His wife was having breakfast in bed. His children were in the forces and he was in favour of the grammar school system and he had met is past headmaster only the other week. Well, it passes the time.
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It was nice to have unfettered access along the outside decks, in the warm sunshine it was good to blow away the cobwebs with a full circumnavigation of the ship. We had half an hour or so in a lounge at the bow to do a spot more reading, before moving onto some more exercise along the deck. We passed couples playing deck quoits, bowls and even paddle tennis, and for once neither of us suggested we play. We did however exercise our minds in the Golden Lion Trivia Quiz. We were determined to beat our last score, but we should have stayed on deck and played something more physical as we ‘crashed and burned’. Despite prepping the nervous system with a pint of ‘Speckled Hen’ I think the increasing tightness of my belt is somehow restricting my cranial function. As for Sue, she says she is too relaxed to concentrate. Stupid Russians starting the October Revolution in November!!!!

During coffee we met our dining partners from the north-east and caught up with what they had been doing, before we excused ourselves and left to attend a lecture on ‘Central Park’. Our hotel in NY is just off the park so we were very keen to learn as much about the area as possible. It looks like we could easily spend a whole day just exploring the park and sadly with only 2 days in NY I fear we will not do the city justice.
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During lunch I spotted a small pod of whales around 200m off the starboard side. This time Sue was sitting with me and we saw the largest one break surface and eject a huge spout of water. They were with us for just 5 minutes and then gone.

Afterwards Sue went to watch ‘Quartet’ in the theatre and I went to comfort Mr Pillow back in the cabin.

When Sue returned from what she said was a packed theatre and a wonderful film, we went to the Lido for coffee. Afterwards we took another turn around the deck, but the wind had got up and there was a chill in the air and it was pleasant to return to the warmth of the inner decks.
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After reading a little more in our cabin we dressed informally for dinner and then joined a full table of fellow guests. We all seem to get on well and usually the conversation starts with what we have been up to during the day. Our description of Moby Dick, seen during lunch went down well.

As ‘Vanity Fair’ was on tonight, Sue took her book and I my tablet to read before the show as we thought it would be popular and seats would be at a premium. We were not wrong and getting there half an hour early ensured us good seats in the centre. The show was very entertaining with many costume changes, great dancing and good catchy songs.

We went for our usual drinks in the restaurant on Deck 2, but this time instead of retiring to our cabins we went top the Golden Lion for a very amusing game of ‘Liar’. It was a panel game where three of the crew gave their own definitions of strange words and we had to vote on which we think was the truth. Very, very funny. Sue and I managed to get 2 of the 4 definitions correct and were quite pleased with ourselves as no one else topped more than 2. After this mornings crash and burn it was nice to finish the day on a semi-high.