Friday, May 09, 2008


Guess what the weather was doing when I looked out of the window this morning. Yup, you got it, it was raining, not hard, but that insistent fine rain the Scots call a "har". Rats!

But before I went out, a bit of boring Admin first - Pack and check out. I left my stuff in the hotel, and went out present hunting for the family, complete with all my camera gear in a rucksack on my back, looking decidedly like Quasimodo. I decided to try one of the big Department stores just to see what they're like, and went off to Macys.

There's one thing you can say about it. It's big. They claim it's the biggest Department Store in the World, and they may well be right. I have to say though, it didn't impress me as much as I had expected. Selfridges in London, for instance, is much better, And it looks as if a lick of paint and a bit of TLC wouldn't have gone amiss. It's got a really weird layout. In effect it's two shops, one for Men separated from the other which is for Women. Odd!

Anyway, presents having been bought, I had about 4 hours left before picking my belongings up at the hotel and heading towards JFK. I wanted to have a look at Chelsea Village, which is about 15 blocks to the South. The rain had just about stopped now, so I decided to walk. I noticed before when walking down 5th Avenue that the stratospherically posh bit stopped around 35th Street, and the further you walked South, the more, well, either real world or tatty are the words that comes to mind, it became. Now I was over on the West side, the same impression forced itself on me. The buildings get lower, and less grand, there are more general purpose shops, and the gloss seems less glossy.

That's not to be critical, it just changes. As you walk, the nature of the surroundings take on different styles. You pass through a district which has a collection of Flower Shops, one after the other. It's called, not surprisingly, the Flower District – at least it's not FLODI. Predictably, the flower shops are bigger than any at home with much more produce on sale. The area is a really bustling, and rather charming little bit of the City. The flowers, trees and ornamental bamboos and grasses spill out onto the street, and you find yourself walking through an avenue of green – like a 100 yard long Garden Centre.

You can feel the scale of everything reducing as you keep walking, and 10 blocks further on you reach Chelsea Village, which has a bit of a yuppy, slightly Bohemian feel to it. It's much more residential now, and the shops show a more individual, arty crafty side which you don't get at the top of 5th Avenue. I headed for a place called Chelsea Market, which is one of those old warehouses very trendily turned into artisan shops.

One was a rather good Wine shop where the balance of wines is very different from what you'd find in the UK. It had a huge stock of rather pretentious looking American wines, almost all of which were foreign to me (I've just realised how stupid that last phrase is). A large range of Italian wines dwarfed the French section, and they had a good collection of German wines – a dying breed in England. I asked the guy there where he recommended to eat and he pointed me to an Italian place located in what looked like a 5th scale tryout of the FlatIron Building. So, in we went to feed the inner man. The comparison with the Italian Pizza place yesterday was comical. This was smooth, suave American Italian, rather than Italian Italian. But it looked good, so in we went.

It was full of people who seemed to want to be seen – heaven knows what they made of a damp, black cagoule covered individual with a large rucksack on his back. I chomped my way through baked Asparagus, Crab, Salmon and Sea-Bass cake in a brioche, and two rather delightful home made sorbets – Poached Pear and Blood Orange. It was really rather good, and at $45 (£25) was not expensive.

And that was about that. I found my way back to the hotel, picked up my bags, and got on the subway to JFK Airport. They've built one of those little Overhead trains which runs the last bit, but it does seem odd, that from the centre of Manhattan, there is no direct route to get to the City's major Airport. That's the way we Brits would have done it!

Back on the last plane out at night, we had the pleasure of a 45 minute hold-up on take-off because they'd had an emergency when one plane's brakes had overheated on the runway, and 42 aircraft were sitting in a rather dismal traffic jam.

Still, we got going, and the pilot had clearly decided to try and get as much of the delay back as possible, so he put his foot down a bit.

I managed to get the two English hooligans behind me. As a race (or is it a tribe?), we do let ourselves down sometimes. They were from Liverpool (they always are in my experience), and they managed to drink far more than was sensible very quickly, and the arguments at 2 in the morning UK time increased to the point where I thought we were going to have one of those "Come outside and let's sort it Out" moments. That might have been a very satisfactory solution from my view point. But the stewardess, by threatening them rather forcibly with potential legal proceedings, managed to defuse the situation. And then, bless her, taking pity on poor little me, she suggested I move forward to spend the rest of the flight in the posh end of the plane, with miles of leg room.

Excellent. And when we arrived in London, what did we meet?

Rain - by the bucket-load.


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