USA - November '07

This trip was initially planned for a wedding invitation. My wife and I were invited to see my friends Melissa and Luke get married, but that fell though and instead of cancelling the trip, we decided to go.

From London we flew to New York City on the Saturday morning and were in NYC by that afternoon. Off the plane and onto the subway we went. No, no taxi or silly personal car. We dove right into the heart of NYC. Let me tell you. The NYC Subway is no Paris Metro or London Underground. It’s vast and confusing. But by the time we left I had mastered the art of reading the subway. Took me four days but I got there. Bloody cheap too at $25 for a weekly card.

We stayed in a small apartment (typical of NYC) on West 14th street between 6th and 7th Avenues, just north of Greenwich Village and smack bang around the shopping area. The room was so small we had to climb a ladder to the bed which was above the kitchen. Comfy bed and the window faced out to rear yards, not onto the noisy 24hour NYC streets, so what more can a traveller as for?

Day one. Shopping. For me, camera gear. For Beck, clothes. Well for me some clothes too. First thing first. Jeans. UK levis – £70. NYC Levis £15. Half price sale. £7.50. Supposedly the jeans grow magic powers when they are sent overseas. Thus the ridiculous mark up!

Purchases made it’s was time for a walk. So from 14th we walked north up to Central Park located at 55th street. Stopped for some take away coffee and muffins on the way and sat in Central park watching the world go by, eating my big fat tasty muffin and my rather well made latte. (Advice for the coffee drinkers. Do not ask for coffee in NYC. You have to ask for a latte or the like to get a decent coffee. Trust me.)

Went for a wander and saw the skating rink in the park then headed south a few blocks to the Rockefeller Centre to grab some tickets for the Top of the Rock observation Deck. Hung around till sunset and went up to the observatory deck, to happily snap away. My fingers that is, were snapping off it was so cold, but well worth it.

Dinner and drinks I had sorted before we left the UK. All thank to the wonders of the WWW. As many of you may know I am a big beer fan. And thankfully so are many New Yorkers. I did my research before we left and had selected, with Beck, a few places to check out. First night, and our last night in NYC was spent at Jimmy’s No.43 down Greenwich way. Beside the weirdo’s coming in and out of the back room listening to their fusion Jazz, the beer was great and the food was even better. Not to mention the service. Great bar. Highly recommended.

Day 2. Beck had researched and discovered the now trendy and slightly bohemian part of town was Williamsburg in Brookland just over the river near the Williamsburg Bridge. We trudged around there all day. We did so much walking that by 4 o’clock we were ready for bed. But a coffee and internet café later, we were off.

Williamsburg is a great place to walk. An industrial area being revived without first being wiped off the map. As a consequence, there are hidden treasures everywhere. Right amongst the garages and small factories we stopped for some shelter from the rain, in what we though was a bar, but was also a restaurant. We had a coffee. And what do you know? The BEST coffee I had in the US. By far. Beautiful coffee. Seeing as the rain was still coming down we had a special brew beer from the Brookland brewery which is located up the road. It was to die for. Italian owner sat just across from us discussing business. So the best coffee in town was no surprise there.

Wandering again we picked up a few items of clothing in the trendy but cheap shop and then off to another bar I had discovered. Spuyten Duyvil. This place had Belgium beers that I had not seen in Belgium. Talking to the manager, he tells me the owners had been on a world trip to find different beers by small brewers. What a life hey? Once again a great place and great beer.

Dinner at a Moroccan place across the road and off to the next bar and the one I most looked forward to. Barcade. They have the biggest selection of US brewed beer on tap in NYC. And on top of that, old arcade games. And yes, they had my favourite game of my youth, Galaga, was among them. Two more beers and a few games later, we were ready once again for bed.

Day 3 we wandered down town. South from 14th. This time stopping off a lot so Beck could shop – for more jeans!!! Around 6 or 7 shops later and no luck with the right size I had had enough. I put my foot down and the city tour continued. And what do you know. We stop looking and we find. Finally found a pair that fit and she liked. Woo hoo. We were off with a happy Beck.

We wandered down to the 9/11 site. Just to see for ourselves. You could not have imagined. So big. Through the holes in the hoarding you could still see the basement. Twisted reinforcement everywhere. Quite a sight. It’s also the business area so to wander around the suits in NYC was fun. Sat down and had a sandwich from one of the carts. No not the type of sandwich OZ and here UK. I’ll let you go and find out for yourself. Went down to Battery Park at the south tip of Manhattan and then we headed north again back up to Greenwich.

There were a few more bars I wanted to check out. We dropped into BXL Café which was your typical modern bar but they had good beer and snacks, not to mention some crazy ladies behind the bar. The off to Ginger Man for a few more. Had a great beer here. But if you ever go, do not, I repeat, do not eat there. We only had a burger. I knew from researching on the net that the food was bad, but i could not have imagined. The worst meal we had in the US by far. But the beer. Ohhh very nice. Off to bed again. Jet lag was starting to kick in.

Day 4 – Last day in NYC. We headed up to the Bronx this time, to visit Little Italy in the Bronx. After being sent in the wrong direction by some idiot, we finally got there. A walk and half it was, but twice as long when someone sends you in the complete opposite direction. By the time we got there we were tired. So we stopped in an Italian sweets shop for a coffee. Coffee good, cannoli was terrible. The cream was textured and too sweet. Not creamy and smooth like ones I remember back home in Melbourne. And the pastry rock hard. Oh no. No good. I was disappointed. And tired.

We were there early so most shops were closed. Before we decided to head off we had a good look in the lonely planet and found the Italian market, which was across the street! As soon as we walk in I am greeted by guys rolling cigars. So I decide to buy some. I ask the lady (who could not speak English) and she indicates to wait and runs off. I stand around looking at pictures on the wall of some guy with Hollywood stars on the wall. Marlin Brando and Al Pacino for example. Next thing I know some Mafioso bloke is standing next to me. He scared the shit out of me. He looked like he just stepped out of Godfather the movie. He knew he scared me too. Funny stuff.

I got my cigars and we wandered around taking in all the smells and sights of great Italian food. I even got to have a traditional San Pellegrino Chinnoto in the traditional little bottles.

We headed down south again to catch the ferry to Staten Island to take some shots and get a good view of the city from afar. Headed back over to Manhattan and spent out last night in Jimmy’s getting drunk, with a tear in the eye, and a heavy head, tired and jet lagged.

Yes we were leaving NYC. And although many would not expect me to say it, I loved NYC. It rocked. It was like a bloody big Melbourne. But better. I felt at home and not judged like over here in London. A great city, built by multiple cultures. Just like back home. They know good beer, good food and a good time, with a friendly atmosphere. Bloody nice place. I can not say too much as I have not lived there, but it is a great place to visit. Let’s just say I would go again.

I’ve just realised this is getting a bit long. I will not carry on much more about the last leg of our journey.

So off to California via a 6 hour bumpy plane ride.

The wedding was supposed to be in Orange County. We were told to stay in Anaheim (the home of Disneyland) but when we discovered the wedding was cancelled we changed plans and stayed in a place called Laguna Beach. And guess what. That’s were they film that show I hate, The OC. Go figure.

I had heard everyone wants to be star in La, and we were not disappointed. We get off the plane, and after logging the forms for my lost luggage (it was still in NY. Helpful advice no 2. Do not put a laptop in your luggage, carry it on the plane), we were greeted by our helpful but nutty shuttle van rep. Oh this guy wanted to be on the set of a Hollywood movie bad, and said so. The world was his stage. Bloody hilarious. Welcome to California.

So off to Laguna Beach via a seven lane highway. I have never seen so many big cars in my life. I saw a Mini showroom before I saw a Mini driving around. They are nuts with the big cars.

Our first day in sunny California was rained out. Not that we complained. We needed a rest and we got it. The next day was nice and sunny. We got out and trawled the beaches, taking in the area and the houses. A nice place to live. Do not ask me how much it would cost, I’m sure a lot. But what was interesting was that there were a quite a few houses empty. Houses right on the beach! Apparently the housing market is so bad that they are not selling. So people just buy another, move out and leave them. What a waste.

Next day we were off. I left my jacket at the hotel. I left it on my bag and when we left just grabbed my bag and jumped in the shuttle car. My jacket was moved by the cleaning lady so I missed it. Not cold enough to remember. Cost me £74 to have it sent back! We arrived at LAX early. Doing so, at the check in, we were given the opportunity to upgrade to premium economy. Take the bargains while you can they say, so we did. For once I had a good sleep and did not have elbow wars for arm space with the person next to me. Bit of extra leg room too, was nice.

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