Location: JFK Airport, NYC, USA
The time is 11am. I am tired and more importantly depressed. As I look out of the terminal windows at JFK, the skies have become grey and it has started to rain, as if giving me a sign of what can be expecte whe I touch down in aound 15 hours time at Heathrow.
Lookily I am not alone in my moment of melancholic unhappiness as a few of the folks from my hostel also fly back today.
My plane was meant to leave at 5pm which meant that I decided to stock up on that classic American delicacy...the 'all you can eat' chinese buffet and as it turns out I have a ew found love of both squid and oysters.
As I board the plane (only an hour late due to a problem with one of the business class passengers) it had finally settled in, the feeling I had when I left for America, but this time in reverse. The feeling that I was not leaving my comfort zone, but in fact going back to it. Home cooking, having washing and ironing done for me (typical student living at home), and after having 4 months of this freedom to whatever I wanted, when I wanted, and having the had the experiences that have spanned from white-water rafting to learning to ride a horse for the first time, I really can not see myself settling in to my mundane routine of university and life as usual.
It only seems like yesterday that I was donning my backpack in true Ghostbusters style, and getting ready for the unknown. This trip has changed my life and just like Arnie says, I think it's more than likely that, 'I'll Be Back'
To Be Continued...?
Location: NYC, New York, UK
Successfully KO'd from lack of sleep I decided to stay in bed for a few hours in preparation for tomorrow's trip back to Britannia, which will no doubt be a depressing one since I will have to go to my normal mundane life of going to university and also working my two jobs at The Varsity, where every Thursday night is £1 night...hopefully my boss my give me a raise if I sneak an advert into the diary, and also working in the ticket office of the eer successful football club (as if) Wolverhampton Wanderers FC.
Having dragged myself out of bed at 9am (the latest I've stayed in be all summer) I decided to head off to my favourite spot, Times Square, for my last taste of Americana, in the form of a cream cheese bagel and a cup of Starbucks. Ding Dang Doo.
The rest of the day was pretty much spent at Macy's buying myself a new iPod, a bargain at $320 for a 60GB Video, works out to about 170 quid, and then off to buy the usua plethora of gifts for folks back home such as the 'I Heart NY' T-shirts and cheap designer clothing to make me look like a big spender.
Successfully dropped after my shop it was back to the hostel for my last night in these beds that not even the seven dwarfs could fit in.
Oh well 'ZzzZzz' time.
Location: NYC, New York State, USA
Finally at 3am last night the crazy man got into bed, so we could all at last get some sleep, only to be woken up at 7am by a couple of Aussie's staggering through the door after a drunken night out.
All was not all in vein as the early wake-up call meant that I could get a proper nutrition filled breakfast that can only come from a healthy McDonald's breakfast, straight after which saw another subway ride to the WTC (World Trade Center) site. Even though I'd witnessed the site on the news and on the memorial yesterday, nothing could prepare me for what ground zero is like. There are posters with messages to deceased loved ones and as well as people who have not seen their loved ones, dead or alive, since the day of the attacks. An overpass lets you go over the top of the constructions site and check out the progress itself.
Most impressive of all at ground zero is the statue of a cross composed of two iron girders which apparently were recovered as is from the 9/11 wreckage.
After this eye-opening experience, I paid a visit to my friend from camp, Alex Dunbar, at his apartment apartment, which is situated right next to the WTC site and must cost an absolute fortune to live in. Brand new kitchen appliances and of course a doorman who knows him by name waiting at the revolving doors in the lobby. An extremely lush apartment.
Unfortunately Alex wasn't there but he told me where the key was over the phone while he gave me a teleconferenced guided tour of his abode. Sweet! Having spent a good 30 minutes talking to Alex, I then left the apartment building and ran straight into another friend from Stewart, Jason Trisos, who coincidentally had also come to visit Alex. Instead he had to settle for me and so we did the only thing two men who haven't seen each other for a while could do...go for a burger at Burger King. Spot On!.
Several hours later and it was back to the hostel, to discover that crazy man had gone (good thing) and that a couple of hot girls had moved in instead...bonus!
Location: NYC, New York State, USA
Today's plan was to go out to the World Trade Center site and see the 5 year anniversary memorial, luckily for us, however we turned on the TV first. The site was absolutely packed, with press, government officials and of course George W. Bush. Having seen this footage, showing just how hard the terrorist attacks hit New York, we decided that we (ie. Me and the folks from Camp Stewart) would give it a miss and go for a picnic at Central Park.
As we were getting ready my fellow Camp Stewarts comrades realised that they hadn't booked enough nights in their apartment and so the first half of the day was devoted to finding another place for them to stay. After about 3 hours of searching they ofund a hostel just 2 minutes walk from their door, in a hostel run by the same company that are in charge of my current accomodation.
Thoroughly stressed out we headed into the heart of New York as some call it, Chinatown and Little Italy, where we successfully chowed down on an awesome Lasagne dish for around about 5 bucks. Not bad considering that they were some good eats...! One thing that we did notice about Little Italy is that its remarkably similar to Mexico where little 'Manuel' looking waiters try to coax you into their restaurant, only in Little Italy the waiters all look and talk a little like Tony Bennett. Chinatown is much the same as Little Italy, only that between each of the restaurants is a tiny chinaman shouting 'DVD, DVD, YOU WANT DVD!!!' whilst waving a knock-off Harry Potter film in your face. Interesting to say the least.
And so 30 minutes walk, a subway ride and a Starbucks later I found myself back at the Hostel, Jazz on the City, ready to be kept awake by the old man (he's about 60) who keeps getting out of bed and pacing up and down the room every 30 minutes. Crazy, Crazy Guy!
Oh well until tomorrow, I'll try and get some sleep.
Location: NYC, NY State, USA
Today was officially the busiest I have ever seen a city, mainly due to the fact that today sees the NY Giants take on the might of the Indianapolis Colts, seeing ticket prices fly through the roof (I tried to get a ticket - $300 bucks!!!) mainly because of the rivalry of the Manning brothers, who play on opposite teams - Eli for the Giants and Payton Manning for the Colts.
Whilst the build up for this game was going on, Times SQ was pretty much closed down which was because of the Broadway on Broadway show which puts many of the songs and performers from the Broadway shows on a huge stage in Times Sq, ending in a huge tickertape explosion from the roofs above, making for a pretty astounding photo op.
After the festivities had ceased I headed over to 14th Street where some of my friends from Camp Stewart, were staying thus initiating an all night bender watching the game in a local bar, with pitchers of budweiser costing just $12, for about 5 pints worth, split between 4 works out to about $4 including tip.
Unfortunately the Giants lost 26-21 meaning that there was an extra downer for tomorrows 9-11, 5 year remembrance. Until tomorrow...bye, bye.
Location: The Big Apple, N Y State, USA
Day 5 of my time in 'The Big Apple' and I have to say it's pretty intense, and if one thing's become clear it's 'When in Rome...', meaning that the only way to have a good time in NY is to act like a New Yorker, ie get to places quickly and don't be too slow when asking for things especially in Starbuck's where a recent poll in the NY Post suggests that New Yorkers spend an average of 20 minutes just to get their expensive (but not for the Brits - it works out to about a quid for a large tea) caffeine fix.
I decided to not let the whole being Mr. 999,999th customer wear me down and so I hit Macy's where customers from abroad, such as myself are entitled to 11% of everything in the store - except cosmetics. Awesome! So I brought a few gifts for people a CK T-shirt here a DKNY top there and it came to less that $40. Sweet!
After a pretty early start it was back off to the hostel for a mid-afternoon chillax which then turned into me having dinner with a really nice girl from Tenessee who was in the hostel overnight as she's got a job working for a media company here in New York, and so an hour or 2 later and successfully well fed on an awesome Italian pasta dish that you need 2 tongues to pronounce it was back to the hostel to get ready to meet some of my friends who would be in town as of tomorrow.
Location: NYC, New York State, USA
And so it begins my first day all alone in the city that is New York, where every streets is filled with well known movie locations, hot dog vedors and people doing their 9-5 thing.
Today was pretty intense beginning with a 3 hour stint in the local American Express office trying to get hold of some well earned cash which was greatly needed since I successfully maxxed out my credit car. After much blood, sweat and copious amounts of arguing, I emerged victorious with $450 in one hand and the head of the office clerk in the other...just kidding...it was $460 altogether.
Successfully cashed up I did the only thing a man could do when he hasn't seen any green other than the Mastercard logo for 2 weeks, spend like Michael Jackson in Mothercare. My purchases for the day were as follows.
One Levi T-Shirt : $19
One Pair of Levi 501 Jeans: $44
One Pair of Skechers shoes: $65
Looking like a pimp...Priceless. For everything else there's maxxed out Mastercard, accepted nowhere.
And so the day carried on without a hitch, well almost. What follows is the gospel truth and lets face it after reading it there's no way I could have made this story up.
Having successfully spruced myself out, I headed over to the SoHo Apple Store to check out some more free internet access.
As I approached I could tell that things were not quite as they seemed, ie half of the entire staff were lined up on the steps of the shop and I was pretty certain that somebody famous would be arriving shortly. What happened next was nothing short of unbelievable and gobsmacking.
The lady in front of me dropped her hand bag on the floor, she stepped aside so that people could get by on the sidewalk, I then proceeded as you would into the Apple Store itself, and began my journey into the underground work of architectural genius (the store is below street level and you have to take the stairs or the elevator to the bottom), to my shock there was a sudden scream and thunderous handclaps that eminated from my rear. Last nights curry perhaps, nope, just the entire staff congratulating the lady who had previously dropped her handbag, who had just become the stores 1 millionth customer, leaving me dumbfounded and in shock, and then if that wasn't enough she was promptly furnished with over $3000 worth of Apple electronics, an iMac, iBook, iPod and of course the accessories that go with it.
And so there it is folks the story of how I became the 999,999th customer to enter the Apple Store SoHo.
Location: NYC, New York State, USA
Today was one of mixed emotions, sadness because of the fact that all of my mates who i've lived with in a box no bigger than 5 metres by 2 metres (ie the van) have now to depart leaving me on my lonesome in this absolutely monstrous city.
So our first challenge was to have a proper sending off by way of breakfast in a proper Manhattan diner. My choice of substanance was 3 lumberjack pancakes, with 2 eggs ('over easy' of course - or cooke on both sides), 2 pieces of bacon and a sausage as well as a surprise in the form of a slice of ham underneath the pancakes, served alongside a glass of real orange juice (as in you see the oranges being squeezed by a machine) and a cup of tea, which wasn't half bad even by American standards.
We then headed back downtown for a visit once more to Times Square and also the NBA store, where you can play one-on-one against a friend. After a couple of hours doing some serious window shopping it was back to the hotel to chill out and wait for the aiorport shuttles to pick up each of the leftover trek members one by one.
While we were waiting, we did manage to talk to another trek group that had exactly the same problems as us whilst on tour, leaving me to wonder if any other groups had similar problems.
Finally at 5.00pm everyone had left leaving me to check into my hostel on 96th street conveniently one subway stop up from the Beacon Hotel. The room's pretty tightly packed - 8 bunk beds stacked wiht a 1 metre gap in between but it's clean and has an en-suite bathroom so a clean shower whenever I want.
As usual back into town to check out such places as Virgin Megastore where people are always eager for you to buy stuff, and Toys R US where you can ride on a huge indoor Ferris Wheel. Fun for all the family. Oh yeah and Starbuck's, my latest addiction.
Location: New York, New York State, USA
Today was a pretty rushed day as my friend Rob flies home tomorrow so he wanted to see as much as he could in one day, and being the friendly type I decided to tag along, however not realising how fast it would be.
We saw Empire State Building or what we thought was the Empire State building but was in fact the Chrysler Building. They look pretty similar. Then off to 34th Street just to check out Macy's which was pretty awesome, then off to the harbour on 12th avenue to ride the 30 minute speedboat which takes you just off the coast of the Statue oF Liberty to a compendium of Jock Jam tunes (Let's Get Ready to Rumble, Space Jam songs etc) took a few photos of the Manhattan skykline, headed back once more to Times Square and then to 5th Avenue to walk into all of the uber-Designer stores, Gucci, Armani, Versace, pretty expensive stuff. $400 for a pair of trainers.
All of this before 1pm. Not bad timing if I do say so myself!!!
It was then back to the hotel after a cup of tea in Starbuck's for a Siesta and then another night excurison into the illuminated paradise of TImes Sq.
A fantastic first day in 'the city that never sleeps'.
Location: New York-New York, NY State, USA
FInally after what seemed like forever, the Ford 350 ecoline that travelled over 6000 miles from Los Angeles all the way to the Metropolitan heaven of New York, finally arrived.
We promptly escaped from the tour bus, checked into the hotel, never again to see another Trek America tour van for as long as we lived. (Well Almost, we saw one the next day!!!)
The hotel itself cost us $70 a night each however the rooms actually cost around about $370 which gives you some idea of how good this hotel actually is.
Beethoven playing in the lobby, a concierge service free of charge to help you plan trips at a moments notice and of course an entire floor devoted to a gym that you can use for just $5 for the whole day.
Our obvious destination was however straight to a subway to head on down to Times Square which boasts one of the largest TV's ever created by man and of course a plethora of shops that cost the same in dollars as they do in pounds back home, making New York City a giant 50% sale for me and the rest of the group.,
For example, in England we have the 99p menu, however in New York it's the 99c menu, making it worth about 55p. Cheap as chips one might say.
The lights that are on in Times Square make it seem almost like daylight and comes pretty close (but not quite) to beating the lights over on the west coast in Las Vegas.
However no matter how much we wanted to stay up it was unfortunately back to the beacon hotel to salivate over our 'fit-for-a-king' room. BISH BASH BOSH, jobs a good'n.
Location: Washington DC, DC, USA
Having successfully burned the food, it was time for Ting Tong to tell us that we were in DC for another day...Bugger!
Oh well it meant that we all go to go to a local mall and do some eating and shopping. However first we had to be searched up until the point I could almost hear the sound of a rubber glove being snapped on to Mr. Washington DC Policeman's hand!!!
However after some initial friction, no pun intended, we were finally let in to the mall which hosted a smorgesbord of shops to keep the girls satisfied and food stores to keep us satisified, especially after my one burger BBQ digestion, which left me hungry as you may imagine.
Bringing me on to my point that there is no need to go on a Trek America holiday simply because there are too many hidden costs to handle, including the fact that if you eat only the $150 limit for food for the Trek your group could be used for an Oxfam Appeal video.
We got back to the camp full up and ready to dip into the ice cold waters (and it was ice cold!!!) of the camp's swimming pool.
Last day in a tent..! Sheer Bliss!!!