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The last gasp – our USA East Coast holiday

Posted by on August 31, 2013

9508323041_9f1879ce22 (1)I’ve always held this belief that if I ever went to New York I’d never want to come home, so you can imagine how disappointment at our Global Adventure coming to an end was also tinged with huge excitement as we started what we called our 2 week city break holiday in Vancouver and the USA East Coast. Surprise, surprise; my sneaking suspicions about me and New York were bang on. We really did keep the best still last. And better still, we managed to have a laugh, meet amazing people and see some fabulous and downright bizarre sights along the way and of course fit in a few more relatives. Top oh….  

The Island to the City….
Vancouver started well right from the off. The ferry from Vancouver Island to Vancouver itself was beautiful, giving us a glimpse of the wonderful mountains that so famously frame Vancouver city. The sun was shining, as it would be for the whole of our stay in Vancouver, the weather just perfect.

Vancouver, a beautiful city

Vancouver, a beautiful city

We were headed to meet more people we had never met before, but people we would instantly feel so close to, Julie and Jim, a recently retired couple who are old family friends. Julie, though a lot younger than my father, grew up his sort of neighbour. I say sort of because there is about quarter of a mile between their respective homes at the top of a winding hill in Buckinghamshire called Pigots Hill. It was up this hill that my grandfather, a German by birth, built his stained glass studio, still a working studio today for my uncle Joe. The next house was Pigots itself, the legendary home of the sculpture and typographer Eric Gill, and Julie’s grandfather. My father, till his dying day was transfixed by Pigots, and as a child many of our holidays spent on Pigots Hill, so I was bought up on endless stories of the place. I don’t know about at Pigots but certainly at my dad’s place there was precious little money and many, many mouths to feed. Being a stained glass artist is not the most lucrative of occupations, especially a German one in post-war Britain.

So with connections to be made, stories to re-evaluated and new perspectives to be found, the four days we spent with Julie and Jim and their family were jammed packed with tales of decedents and current families. Jim has himself become a bit of a family historian, tracing his and Julie’s family back and unearthing other fascinating stories. During our four days he kept us enthralled with wonderful tales you couldn’t make up. Distant relatives called Buggins, 7 sisters all in need of marriage. But, their father believed, how could he marry off someone called Buggins so they changed their name to Burgoyne. Or the missionary who had gone to the Cooke Islands, near New Zealand, in the late nineteenth century and had helped to educate out of cannibalism. Still, to this day, his name is revered across the islands. And the cousin who is Daniel O’Donnells biggest fan and goes to as many concerts as she can. I just love it when people have such a passion that it’s central to their lives and identity. I so want to meet her. Or the many other stories and pieces of interesting history and science that Jim knows so much and which we eagerly lapped up.

harbour

Vancouver harbour – home to more float planes than anywhere else in the world

Personal tour guide…..
But our time in Vancouver was not just about sitting at the dining table chatting. On day 2 Jim declared himself official Tour Guide and so began 3 days of ace sightseeing. On our first day we walked around downtown and the beautiful harbour. We walked to the park full of totems and we watched a mega cruise ship set sail. As we neared the end of our trip it reminded us so much of where we started – Istanbul and our friend Michaela’s beautiful amazing flat, overlooking the Bosporus and the world’s largest cruise ships there. In Auckland we spent nearly an hour watching passengers embarking another huge ship, all excited smiles. Mind you, there wasn’t much else to do in Auckland! And so we did it again in Vancouver as we gazed in awe at the Sapphire Princess about to set sail for Alaska, wondering aloud how many people would travel on her (3,700 , thanks Wikipedia), how many guests (2,600) and how many crew (1,100). What facilities they would have on board, and what food there will be, and endless debates about whether we would actually want to have dinner with  captain. Going on a cruise was one of the things I so wanted to do on this trip (mainly because its an excuse to eat as much as I can for a week). Invariably, whenever we would talk about going on one we would end up wondering with much laughter whether the entertainment would be our next door neighbours, the club singers.

vancouver

The view from Vancouver High Court

Over the next few days we would see all the main sights and learn about how the Winter Olympics had changed Vancouver.  We would hear stories of the mayor, nicknamed Mayor Moonbeam. We would learn about Vancouver life. How quickly the city can change when people do “tear downs”, where you buy a house which are mainly wooden and then tear it down and in a matter of days build a new one. We would visit suburbs, like in Melbourne and Sydney, called English names like Richmond, New Surrey, Hastings, Collingwood. We would walk past the hotel where later that day we will discover the Glee star Cory Montieth was dying of an overdose at around the time we walked past it.

We would get to catch up with Lisa who I met at the Sanctuary Spa and Retreat in Thailand. It had been Lisa’s birthday when we were there and in lieu of a present I had made her a very homemade card from a lined pad I carried, in an envelope stuck together with mossie net gaffa tape cut into stars. It really wasn’t much of a card but I spent a while making it as it was the best I could do at the time. We hadn’t been in touch since and so I sent her an email, starting with the phrase hope you remember me. “Of course” she replied. “I still have your card up in my apartment”. I was over-joyed.

A little bit of Yorkshire in Canada

A little bit of Yorkshire in Canada

We would experience Canadian hospitality. Amazing food at Julie and Jims, from fabulous lasagna and salad for tea, to Jim’s special breakfast French Toast which I happened to mention one day I was planning to try and then was duly served up for our breakfast the next morning. Whilst queuing for the toilet one day in a small coffee shop, Tim Hortons which is a kind of Canadian Starbucks, a security guard came up and offered to show us to some nicer toilets. When we dithered he got firm. “You wanna go to the toilets or not?”. We all nodded and he took us into the bowls of a university building next door. “Trust Joseph” he said in introduction “I’m driving the bus”. The toilets were really nice!

We thought the Raindrop  very beautiful

We thought the Raindrop very beautiful

It was on our trip round the harbour as we gazed upon a rather beautiful statue called The Raindrop that we met Jean, a lovely retired friend of Julie and Jims. Jean had a real story having worked all around the world and been a police woman and police trainer in various African countries. Her accent sounded more than a little familiar and it was soon established she came from about 2 miles from us. She was less than impressed with The Raindrop. “Did you see how much it cost” she asked Julie in her broad Yorkshire accent. “I thought, well I know where my taxes are going”. You can take the girl out of Bradford…..

Shock, horror. Am I that big…..?
Our time in Vancouver was also coloured by my little unwanted visitor resulting in poor Jim having to take me to various pharmacies to see if I could get a drug. On one such trip I also went to a supermarket post office to buy stamps for England. I asked for the stamps, to be literally gob-smacked by the response. “Certainly” said the post officer, “but when is this baby due?” It was all I could do to make vague noises of horror and confusion in response; I knew I’d put on weight, but surely not that much? “The baby” she repeated to which I just increased my look of despair. “Kate’s baby” she said slowly as if talking to a total moron. “When will it be born?” My shriek of laughter and relief echoed around the large supermarket. Once again we had been caught out by the North American interest in a royal family that just simply aren’t at all in our consciousness.

After four days, sadly our stay in Vancouver came to an end as Jim and Julie drove us to the airport for our night flight to Philadelphia. Jim wanted to leave really early, I wasn’t sure. He must have second sight. Turns out our booking wasn’t correct and it took nearly 3 hours at the airport to sort our check-in. It was with real sadness we said goodbye to Jim and Julie. Once again we had been humbled, honoured and astounded at the enormous generosity and kindness and plain friendship shown to us. Vancouver, famed for its rain, will always be warm and sunny to us

So good they named it twice….
And so, nearly 24 hours after we left Jim and Julies home we arrive at our little flat in Union City, our cheap flight taking us via Philadelphia and our first Bolt Bus between the two cities. I awoke as the bus wound its way up from the tip of Manhattan. New York didn’t disappoint from the minute I opened my eyes. It was exactly as I had imagined and just as exciting and wonderful and fabulous

The majestic Chrysler Building

The majestic Chrysler Building

The East Coast was just starting a heat wave, the pilot announcing it was over 80 degrees in Phili at 8.30 that morning. It would be around 100 degrees most of the time we were in New York and the East Coast, really far too hot. So we get off the bus near Penn Street Station and do our first New York walk, in rush hour, with all our bags. We were New York naïve. We still thought that because the roads looked fairly near on the map it wouldn’t be too far to walk. But excitement and wonder kept us going and before you knew it we were in the Port Authority bus station finding our bus to Union City. A short 5 or 10 minute ride under the Lincoln tunnel and we find ourselves in a suburb which is less than salubrious but very cheap and the flat itself is lovely. Best of all it has aircon. We are dead on our feet. We eat Kraft pasta dinner I bought in Canada and go to bed early. New York will have to wait till we have slept.

Next morning we are greeted by our landlady bringing us Dunkin Donuts for breakfast (that was the intention to eat well out of the window straight away), and we get to meet her Rottweiler called Sophie, more than a little dopey from the heat. Thankfully we get on with the landlady. A good job.

NYC has lots of these. The heat was almost unbearable whilst we were there

NYC has lots of these. The heat was almost unbearable whilst we were there

On our second day, Patrick will lock our room key in our room and he will have to grovel and ask her to come back to open the door for us. Luckily its on Sophie’s walking route. After my annoyance has gone we both laugh about the last time Pat locked himself out. It was a morning in Bradford. Pat, wearing nothing but his dressing gown and slippers went to the bins without his keys. I was at the radio station getting ready for my morning show. Luckily our neighbour spotted him and offered to drive to the station with Pat to pick up the keys. In Bradford we have a famous local character called the Bradford Monk or Bradford Jesus Man. For years he has walked miles each day, always wearing a khaki habit. There is even a website you can go to show where you saw him so his route is plotted. One website shows him getting on a train. “No, that’s not allowed” said Patrick the day we found the site. “That’s cheating”.  That morning on the show I laughed myself silly telling listeners to watch out if they saw a man wandering round in a dressing gown it was not the Bradford Monk in a new outfit, its Patrick in It’s a new look he’s sporting I said. Not D&G, but D,G and S – dressing gown and slippers!

We start to explore……

Menus in NY show calories. It has really changed what people order

Menus in NY show calories. It has really changed what people order

We find out you can catch ‘Jitney’ buses, small, truly de-regulated buses which go every few minutes into Manhattan for $2, sometimes taking as little as 5 minutes. We get on our Jitney, hold our breath at the speed and carelessness of the driver who is either talking in rapid Spanish on his phone or singing at top voice to the salsa which booms around the bus, and we set off to discover New York, which like a fine wine gets better each day we are there. We wander into Times Square, down to the Empire State Building (which of course we don’t go up. After-all we have not been up some of the most famous buildings in the world on this trip). We gaze in wonder in the Chrysler Building and we go for our first New York Deli meal. Here we would start to experience the extremes of New York and its differences to other parts of the USA. In the delis you pay for your meals by weight. It makes people very portion size conscious. The food (with the exception of the obligatory ‘Mac and Cheese’ was incredibly healthy and pretty pricey. And it tasted fabulous.

View of downtown

View of downtown

The difference about how people look was really start straight away too. The ‘look’ is definitely very different to the East Coast. In Seattle I found this book about the New York fashion industry, a bit like a far sexier Devil Wears Prada. In it the characters worry so much about their weight that they hardly eat. They may all be size 0 but their bodies and brains don’t function properly and as a result they are all insane. I saw many women that thin. No fake breasts and hair extensions here, it was all chic bobs and designer gear. As it was so hot the clothes were very flimsy and revealing. I saw many women with legs so slim they looked like they would snap, with ribs and collar bones jutting out and a few where their low cut tops showed breasts not too dissimilar to when I lost too much weight, two empty sacks with crinkly skin around them.

Highlight after highlight…..
So over the next 3 days we did famous highlight after highlight. Sitting in Central Park earwigging – we were lucky enough to sit next to two architects having what seemed like a precursor to disciplinary action. Walking through Greenwich Village down to the tip of Manhattan to catch the free Staten Island ferry which gives you the best view of the Statue of Liberty.

On the way we stop to watch a street artist making spray pictures which weren’t our kind of thing but we could see he was immensely talented. Turns out he’s British, a Chelsea fan whose best mate is a mad Leeds fan. We talk footy (how his best mate is a huge business man but has a flat he can see Elland Road from and a Billy Bremner duvet cover). The heat is killing, its over 100 degrees. He bemoans that its been a quiet day for him. So far he’d only made $400!

The free way to see the Statue of Liberty

The free way to see the Statue of Liberty

As we pass the Statue of Liberty on the Staten Island Ferry we muse about whether we should have paid to go to it. Not at all, I say. We’ll go up it one day when we live here and we have visitors. Pat smiles at my wryly. He knows I’m not joking. Even better, we see Max Branning from Eastenders was on the return journey.

We walk across Brooklyn Bridge but alas part was closed off and you couldn’t see right over. We walk to the waterfront in Union City at night, running the gauntlet of Japanese tourist buses to get the best views of the skyline.

One evening we take the bus from the bottom of Manhattan right up to Harlem. Its only a matter a mile or so from Central Park but it’s a different world. We walk past the Apollo theatre and walk the streets, drinking in the atmosphere. We go to a buy by weight café where the food is less healthy than in midtown. As we queue to pay a man getting a take-out meal to break his Ramadan fast asks what we are doing in Harlem. “Are you photographers?” he asks as if that could be the only possible reason.

We loved this crumpled building next to the Brooklyn Bridget

We loved this crumpled building next to the Brooklyn Bridget

We catch the subway and are rewarded by a group of men in their 50s singing My Girl with brilliant harmonies. The subway is noisy, everyone talking really loudly. So unlike London; So fabulously New York. We are amused over and over watching people failing to hail the yellow cabs. I laugh, remembering how when in London my uncle David used to have a large yellow striped foam glove specifically for hailing taxis.

Dog extremes in NYC!

Dog extremes in NYC!

We eat large American breakfasts in local Union City diners late morning. We eat Pizza for our evening meal 2 nights in a row. The $1 pizza slice has become something of a NYC phenomenon, with places on every corner. We manage not to find one, paying several dollars each slice per night. Of course, the pizza and breakfasts go straight to my hips and behind. When we get home I will make a comment to my mum about my huge arse. “It may be bigger than normal” she says “but I rather like it!”. Bless.

9/11 and Ground Zero
On our 2nd day we head to the 9/11 memorial. Both of us were transfixed and just full of admiration for how they have done the memorial. The foundation holes of both towers have been turned into waterfalls around which the names of everyone who lost their lives that day are carved. On computer screens nearby you can look up someone and find out about them. You can see their photos, find out what they did in the towers and also who their families asked to be named next to.

The memorial

The memorial

The exhibition centre, when open, will project images of those who died. It all felt very person centric and very respectful. Next to the memorial will be 4 new towers, each designed by the greatest architects in the world. Only one tower has been built so far. Known as the Freedom Tower it’s the tallest building in the USA. There couldn’t be a more obvious way for the Americans to say f*^& you to Al Qaeda.

The owner of this uniform lost his life in the twin towers

The owner of this uniform lost his life in the twin towers

Until built, there’s a temporary museum. Patrick, true to form, didn’t want to go in as it cost $15 each. I insisted. Like many other places on this trip, such as the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Mihn City, I cried as I went round, losing it most at the sight of the actual fire uniform worn by one of the firefighters who lost their lives. This is a museum of the modern age, with film and actual testimonies not just still pictures.

Watching the film of the emergency services response you see men and women who are literally about to walk to their death. So moving words cannot describe.

It's hard not to cry reading this

It’s hard not to cry reading this

In the museum there are pictures drawn by kids. A number say things like ‘peace on earth’. It’s a hard line for the museum to walk to not get involved in arguments about the military action that took place afterwards, but I felt that just side-stepping it isn’t really OK. If statements like Peace on Earth are writ big, and the museum is all about acknowledging the horror and wrong of innocent people caught up in politically driven wars and violence, then surely they have to say all of it is wrong; that the life of an Iraqi is worth the same as that of an American.

More language divisions….
The ability of the English language to be completely different in different countries continues to astound and delight us. We start to tell the difference between Canada and New York, or New Yoiiiiiwwwk as me and Pat pronounce it laughingly. And like everywhere in the USA there’s loads of ‘violator’ signs. Our best was a sign we saw on the West Coast which said “Violators may be fined $541”.

In Canada they use more British English words but they are the same as the Americans in not saying their ‘t’s. In Vancouver Island I helped out on a ‘boddle’ drive (collecting bottles for charity); my cousins daughters were cooking peanut ‘briddle’. As Pat said at the time, fair dos, we were in Briddish Columbia! We had 2 favourite ‘d’ moments. The first was in Seattle when walking along the waterfront and we were passed by one of the Duck tourist bus/boats. In the home of grunge music, for some reason the driver was trying to whoop whoop the passengers by asking them who was a fan of the Beatles, or ‘Beadles’. It gave us one of those shared moments which me and Pat love to much. Without a word we both turn to each other and at exactly the same time we both start singing “Watch out, Beadles about”. Our next favourite would come in Washington where I had a baked potato. I asked Pat to get me some butter so he goes to the counter and asks. The woman looks at him blankly. He repeats. She waves at the salt and pepper. Pat says butter again. No response. Then the man behind Pat says “he means budder”. “Ahh” she says, going off to get some. A friend of mine would later tell how she worked a street food stall in New York. “I had to say budder hundreds of times a day”. Another friend would tell how he was at Newark Airport. He asked in his Leeds accent for the train to New York and was pointed to the local Newark train. “No, New York”. He was pointed again to the same local Newark train.

The accents can be really hard to understand in New Yoik. On one bus ride, behind us sat two women talking ten to the dozen. We both realised after about 10 minutes they were talking English. Both of us caught about 1 word in every 100. It’s a different language, mind you we did both say we might have the same experience in Glasgow, or even Newcastle.

Its not just the ‘d’s that drove Pat mad, he couldn’t cope with the lack of ‘s’s’; math, sport, inning.

Formal and old fashioned…..
Often in the USA we were constantly amazed about how some things are so old fashioned and formal compared to the UK. For example, our phones would never fully charge (they have a much lower electricity supply than we have). Nowhere has chip and pin, cards are just swiped and not even signed for; a real problem if you lose your card. Often things which are computerised over here are still manual over there.

On the Philly trains

On the Philly trains

On Philly trains the tickets come from big books, which the guard tears out and then has to use a punch to punch out load of holes to say when you used it. We were astonished by some of formal and complicated language in signs. “This coach is restroom equipped for your convenience”.

That infamous New York politeness…..
Of course people were rude. I think that goes without saying in New York. In cafes we found none of the east coast helpfulness, until in one when the waitress realised we were English it was suddenly all bonhomie. “I’m Polish” she said, touching my arm in a gesture of shared geography and heritage, as if neighbours. When we asked in Grand Central Station where to buy tickets we were given very good instructions but with no flicker of a smile or any warmth. We are horrified by how rude the twitter and Facebook comments are on a TV show.

One day we passed the famous ‘Love’ street sculpture. We fancied a pic so we waited till a couple had finished having their photo taken by a stranger they had recruited for the job. Poor stranger, you’d have thought they were on a photo shoot. Standing up, sitting down, with glasses, without, her on her own….. After about 5 minutes we walked on. She didn’t even notice that we had been waiting.

Time to go to Philly…..

Historic Philadelphia - where the USA all began

Historic Philadelphia – where the USA all began

All too quickly our few days in New York come to an end and its time to head to stay with yet another cousin, Charlotte and her husband Steve and son Will. We go back to get a Bolt bus back to Philly (only $11 for us both for 100 miles; less than it costs for two of us to get from Shipley to Leeds on the train.) Once again we stand in the burning sun in the street. Its chaos. Welcome back to US economy travel. The journey is eventful; the driver spends quite a bit of the journey on the phone to her mate discussing how she’s had no lunch break. At one point she actually starts doing her paperwork. She nearly crashes at least twice that I noticed. I decide never to sit where I can see the driver again and put my headphones in to distract me. Me and Pat wryly smile as we amuse each other by nodding to each other each time a plane comes into land at Newark Airport which we pass on the freeway. Both of us realise how much we have come to rely on little shared moments like this, getting ridiculously large amounts of shared pleasure from small everyday things. It reminds us just how close we have got on this trip. We both force away any thoughts about how we will have to learn to cope without each other upon our return.

Many an hour spent doing what Nuttgens's do - gassing at kitchen tables!

Many an hour spent doing what Nuttgens’s do – gassing at kitchen tables!

After navigating a rammed Philly Sunday evening local train (not much fun with backpacks) we arrive in Merion Station and so starts 3 fabulous day. Right away, as with so many of my cousins I’d never met before or met briefly, me and Charlotte clicked and we just had so much to chat about, endless hours spent sat at her kitchen table in her wonderful kitchen discussing family, life, the universe and everything. Steve, her husband, was also great and we talked about dreams, analysis, antiques and more family history. Charlotte’s son Will was so interested in our trip about the world. I find out that Charlotte and Julie are distantly related through Charlottes father, my lovely uncle Christopher who has been so kind to me and Pat over the last few years. As Julie tells me later in an email, that means we are kind of distant cousins too! Their company, their two dogs and swimming pool all combined to make the stay so wonderful.

Charlotte shows us her potting studio where she was busy making around 80 vases in advance of her daughters wedding which would happen after we had left. They have great pictures and furniture and exploring the house is wonderful. They have spent many years making their house into the great home that it is. Although mine and Charlottes lives are very different, we find common areas beyond family. She is involved in running a community skating rink. Some things are the same the world over.

Charlotte's beautiful wedding vases

Charlotte’s beautiful wedding vases

The sun continues to be relentless. Steve has heard rumours that so many people had been cracking eggs on the pavements in national parks to watch them cook that it had been banned! Everyone has royal baby fever and even in the USA what the baby will be called is one of the main topics of conversation. “How cute Princess Kate is” we overhear some women say.

We visit the Philadelphia historical areas – the original US Senate room, Liberty Bell, the Jefferson post office. We drive through Philadelphia’s very impressive parks and by the art galleries, past the “Rocky” steps which even around 10 at night still have tourists on them taking photos, re-creating that famous scene from the film. Even in Hollywood we saw a poster promoting how good the film industry is for a city and economy. I get filled with a feeling that has been very common on this trip, frustration and sadness that I couldn’t do more through my last full time job when I headed up Bradford’s status as UNESCO first official City of Film.

The first Senate room

The first Senate room

Years ago, watching the Springsteen video for the Streets of Philadelphia, I remember thinking that Philly looked a bit like Leeds. I can see why on this trip. There are suburbs with small square red brick houses that look not too dissimilar to back-to-backs, and red brick terraces that have more than a passing resemblance to council houses in the UK. In DC we would see small terraces of pale pink, blue and green houses that reminded me of Bristol.

We spend a day lying by the pool and swimming. In the evenings we share fabulous food and company. We totally refuse to think about going home, burying our heads in the sand. This is the life, we are determined not to spoil it.

 

Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill

Off to the Capitol….
One day we head very early to the Greyhound Terminal to catch a coach to Washington. This journey will mean we have visited 11 states on this trip. We discover that although we had printed out our web tickets we were supposed to bring ID with us… for a bus..? We are spoken to vey firmly by the supervisor. She points to the fine print and tells us we need to read this in future. I apologised in a very British way. “No need to apologise Ma’am” she tells us off, “just read the fine print in future”. She lets us on the bus.

This route is one of Greyhounds smartest routes so we settle into nice comfy large seats. Our driver did not let us down. “This is Operator Freeman” he tells us in a very silky smooth Barry White type low voice. “Its mah job to make your ride as comfortable as possible. So you folks just sit back, take advantage of the wifi and comfy seats and just let me take the strain of the journey. That’s why Ahhm here, to smooth your way to Washington”. His words smooth over us like conditioner. I am in love.

No guns or apples

No guns or apples

Three hours later we arrive in Washington. Tours around the White House have been suspended due to “sequestration” but we head for a tour around Capitol Hill. There’s a sign outside. We cannot take in apples or guns! Our stock of fruit has to be demolished off pretty quickly prior to our tour which, of course, we are late for as a result.

Rosa Parks - the last non politician to lie in state in the Capitol

Rosa Parks – the last non politician to lie in state in the Capitol

We see the new Rosa Parks statue and we both ponder a lot on her story. How she changed history by something as simple, but as brave as refusing to sit at the back of the bus. But we are also reminded how recent she did that. On our last night in Vancouver we watched the Treyvon Martin not guilty verdict live on TV. We knew nothing of the case at that time but we would know quite a lot by the end of our stay on the East Coast. We were struck once again by how much more divided the US is to the UK. The economic disparity between white and black and Hispanic is so stark. Even with a black president. As the Greyhound rolled into Washington both me and Pat remarked how we only saw 2 white people walking the street. Once we got to Capitol Hill everyone in suits were white; generally, people with uniforms black.

The best home in the world?

The best home in the world?

Leaving the majestic Union Station, despite the blazing sun, we walk the couple of miles or so to Lincoln Memorial and on to the White House. We pop into the American History Museum and are fascinated at the difference in how World War Two is described from an American perspective, especially after having been in Pearl Harbor just a few months earlier. Patrick droops as I make him go into the section with First Lady dresses, which, of course, is far busier than any other section. I slaver over Hilary Clintons dress.

We wish we had more time. We both agree we are definitely coming back to Washington.

All too quickly we have to catch our return bus back to Philly, and as usual the characters don’t disappoint. We sit just in front an American version of Vicky Pollard. In front of us a blond with very long hair gets on. 10 minutes later, a woman with short dark hair offers us lollipops. Her wig sits on the seat next to her.

Michelle Obama's inauguration dress

Michelle Obama’s inauguration dress

We find ourselves also sitting opposite a woman who is fascinated by our accents. We, in turn, are fascinated by her. She tells us her life story. 40 years old, married for 23 years she has left her husband, given up her home and has spent 3 days traveling by bus from Texas, heading to New Jersey where she is going to live with her new boyfriend. As the story goes on we find out they have never actually met, having met via games in play-station. The story gets more intriguing. Turns out he is only 23. And he still lives with his parents. He keeps calling her. Seems like he is having cold feet. “Do you really want me to come” she asks through her tears”.

On our final bus journey back to New York we will meet a woman who keeps telling us the same story over and over again. She is unable to shut up. I put on my headphones. Pat looks very annoyed at me as he keeps having to nod and look interested. I send him a message, knowing this is our last US bus ride, generously promising that next time I’ll deal with the mad person!

Back to New York for our last day….
When we were in San Francisco we stayed in two star hotels (well, doss houses would be a better description) with shared showers and toilets. Whilst we were there I told Pat I had started to visualise where we would stay in New York so we didn’t have more of this. I said I was imagining a fabulous shower and bathroom, and I was picturing us having breakfast in an amazing New York apartment with stunning views across the Manhattan skyline. Thanks to Facebook and advice from mates we found our great flat in Union City. And guess what? The bathroom had just been done up with the most fabulous shower. That just left the views and the breakfast. I am never one to give up.

Central Park

Central Park

As we got to Philly an old friend of mine put us in contact with a friend of hers and we were invited to meet up and stay with her for our last night of the trip. So we arrive back in NYC for one last time, we get our bags tangled in the barriers at the subway and have to pay twice, we get lost but we finally make our way to East Side Upper to meet Brigitte at her beautiful 28th floor flat. As always, with all contacts our mates have sorted on this trip, we click straight away. Brigitte is Swiss, working at the United Nations, and has lived in many places around the world. We have so much to talk about – life, traveling, families and kids, friendship. She talks about traveling with kids. Perfectly possible she says if you have the right attitude. She convinces me that I need to go to South America sometime which she says feels more European than North America. So that’s our next big adventure sorted then…..! She talks about how it does feel very different living in the USA. We order Chinese food on the internet (which I’m disappointed doesn’t come in boxes like on the movies) and we drink red wine. We gaze with wonder at the unbelievable view from her front room which has large windows down both side.

The last day…..

Our final NYC view I had been visualising for months

Our final NYC view I had been visualising for months

And so we wake up on our last day of the adventure outside of the UK. Brigitte has gone to work so me and Patrick have a leisurely breakfast. Our emotions are all over the place. On the one hand I cannot help but almost brimming with happiness that my visualisation had been realised as we sat drinking top quality coffee and eating museli looking across the Manhattan skyline, with the sun shining through on us. On the other hand we were both feeling almost desperate with worry about returning to the UK. What would happen about money and jobs? Would we find somewhere to life as our houses is rented out until at least December. Will we just return to how it was before we left and all our problems come tumbling back? Will we ever become parents? Will we like the UK when we return? Will I ever get the chance to live in the USA which is something this trip has really made me want to do?

We decide to spend our last morning in Central Park. We wonder through the winding roads. We walk a softball match and we laugh at the NYPD electric park buggies. We watch the turtles in Turtle pond and we cling on to each other with nerves and sadness that it’s our last day. All day we feel discombobulated. We head back to the flat, reheat the remainder of last night’s chinese for lunch. We eat in silence. There’s so much to say and so much emotion we don’t know where to start. We put on our backpacks for the last time and leave the flat, both of us thinking thoughts in our own private worlds.

JFK, the final destination…..
Arriving at JFK feels strange. The train takes ages and the airport is huge. We’ve done so many airports this trip but this one feels different. More international. Bigger. Maybe I’m just more nervous than any of our other flights. Pat tries to up the mood. In typical Patricklike understatement he says “We’ve had a right adventure. No major disasters have we?”

How ace. Sharp, hard zero policy NYPD

How ace. Sharp, hard zero tollerance NYPD

We get on the British Airways plane, our last flight from our round the world ticket. It’s a relief not to be on an economy airline, but of course they still punish you by making you walk through business class so you see how much space business passengers have and how they are already being serves drinks before we get into our cramped part of the plane. I smile to myself. It reminds me of a scene in the film ‘Eat the Rich’ where a woman lies on a sun lounger sipping cocktails. The camera pans round to a very grotty room with people sitting in rows on hard chairs. Turns out she is working in the dole office .

On the plane they get my meal wrong again, but this time I end up with business class food. It’s in a proper bowl, totally delicious and I’d be happy to eat it in a restaurant. Unable to sleep now on planes, I watch a new British movie – A Song for Marion – which has a stella English cast. I cry huge tears all the way through. It makes me love Patrick all the more and reminds me how much I want to end my days being cuddled by him. We hold hands as he watches a film about cycling and Sir Cool, Mr Wiggins. I love hearing the English accents and I make notes for the blog. I show him my notes about how the film has made me feel. He smiles and squeezes my hand, saying “you’re just soppy as owt really love”.

As the plane lands I have tears in my eyes. Maybe because I’ve had no sleep, or just from the film I’d been watching. I say to Pat maybe it’s fear, maybe happiness to be home. I just don’t know. The doubts come to the surface. What if, after our travels we don’t like it here in the UK? What if we now think Leeds is a shit hole? “But it’s home” Patrick says. After landing, as we wait for the doors to open my heart is pounding, far worse than when we arrived at new countries! I am totally overwhelmed. 10 months after we have left, we have arrived home.

 

Coming next – The England phase of the Global Adventure; our first month back in the UK but we still feel like we are on our adventure.

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