Friday, 30 October 2015

Life on the ocean wave (2)

Life on the ocean wave
Monday 12th Oct

Today sees us heading north along, but out of sight of, Boston. I guess the shore is out there somewhere over the horizon I can see as I type this in our state room, but all I can see is a calm sea stretching out to infinity. From what I can gather we go north to the edge of the ice line and then turn East following the old trade route which tracks the Gulf Stream all the way to Europe 2500 miles away.

Life on board is punctuated by mealtimes, each one marking the passage of time. In between there is as much or as little you like to take part in, which this morning is not a lot! 

Helen is a bit of a research freak, a habit which can pay dividends. As we boarded she insisted that we seek out the launderette and wash the stuff we had worn in New York, as the facilities are usually very busy. Sure enough to there was no one there so we loaded up and went to the explore. 45 mins later we returned to find a queue - good call Mrs T!

Helen is loaded with Cunard paper and has embarked on an epic letter writing spree ( I think Bones is the first beneficiary)  and devoid of acceptably priced Internet access am writing up the blog off line for publication on our return.

After a genteel breakfast in the Britannia Restaurant we explored some of the ship, taking in the library and bookshop where additional reading matter was sourced. Ship board routine includes a one hour time change every day at noon so suddenly 12.00 became 1.00 and time for lunch - our waistlines are going to suffer!

After the hustle of New York, the sedate pace of life on the boat takes a bit of adjustment. There is little we have to do except amuse ourselves and be ready for the next main event, which usually involves food. Tonight it was the 175 Ball preceded by the first formal dinner but disaster struck in the shape of a chipped toenail! Oh no.... Who you gonna call? That's right, nail busters or to be more accurate the health spa who soon diagnosed a full pedicure before reaching for the nail varnish match pots and repairing the damage! Let's not even mention the fee they charged but I understand that there was a 5 percent uptick on the Cunard share price....

Whilst Helen was being pampered I took myself off to the cinema located in the bows, killing a couple of hours watching the new Jurassic Park film (complete re run of the original) before returning to find Helen fully decked out in her glorious red ball gown. She looked stunning, more beautiful than I had ever seen her before so I jumped into my dinner jacket and looking like aristocracy, we made our way to Deck 2 where the social action happens. We imbibed in cocktails, taking in the ballroom which is set into the stern before joining our allotted table at 8.30pm for another great meal which stretched out for a leisurely two hours before Helen's cold caught up with her and it was time to retire for the night.

It's a tough life, innit?

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Manhattan transfer

Manhattan Transfer
Sunday 11th Oct 2015

We crawled back to the apartment at gone 1.00am having imbibed several G&T's at the production company's expense and were treated to the cacophony of Times Square on a Saturday night. New York is not the place for quiet!

Our home in New York

Today is the big day when we transfer from Midtown to the Queen Mary 2 in Brooklyn, a journey which took us over the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge from which we achieved a first view of the ship which will carry us home to England. The sight from the bridge cried out for a photo but this was hampered by the speed of the taxi and the metalwork of the structure. I resorted to simply lining up the shot and taking lots of images till I got one clear view!

QM2 from the Brooklyn Bridge

Embarkation was quick and easy and within about 40 mins we found ourselves entering the central stairway on one of the world's most impressive liners. She may be 10 years old but QM2 is one stylish lady, carrying over 2,400 passengers and 1,200 crew is sumptuous style. Well, maybe the crew don't get the full style treatment but from a guest perspective its attentive service all the way with nothing being too much trouble.

 Our home for the next week

Our balcony state room mid ships on deck 11 and a half bottle of champagne awaited our arrival which was soon quaffed and followed by a buffet in the Kings Court.

It's important to appreciate that this isn't really a cruise. This is a trans Atlantic crossing and is used by many who have the time (and money) to undertake the passage in the style of years gone bye. There is something very timeless about an ocean crossing, leisurely movement across a vast ocean at a very human pace. 

New York Harbour at dusk

As we will be out of sight of land for the next six days it seemed important to witness our departure from New York Harbour from the observation deck, just in from of the huge red funnel. The problem were the missing passengers who became stranded on a broken down tour bus which delayed our departure for over an hour. But this had an upside in that the Statue of Liberty was illuminated as we passed by and there was a great view of Manhattan just after sunset. I did see us pass under the suspension bridge, but only in the darkness from our balcony as we prepared for our 8.30 pm dinner.

And so we end our first day aboard with six more stretching out ahead. Cunard put on lots of entertainment but I am not sure how much we will engage with but there is a fine library and I can see me devouring several books in the next few days.

The sun sets on our New York experience

Monday, 26 October 2015

Of Cabbages and Kings

Of Cabbages and Kings
October 2015

I have to admit that I like this title which I dreamed up in a theatre waiting for the aptly titled King Charles 3rd to start, but more of that later.

We had unfinished business with MoMA so we picked up breakfast from a street vendor and were there at 10.30. Helen is more the one for modern art, so rather than interfere in her musings we separated and I wandered around alone. Some of the art is interesting but some of the stuff is barking mad and the artists must have been on wacky backy to come up with their odd ball canvases. 

Whilst I still think Mark Rothco had a weird fixation with sash windows, it was interesting to see a couple of his works in the flesh and I was interested to see examples of Picasso, Monet and Dali's works in reality.

I was more interested in the pop art of Hockney et al, but seeing about 50 images of Campbell's soup all together made me wonder if he had been at the weed as well!

With several attractions still on our pass we went up the Empire State, an Art Deco masterpiece which offered a really good sight of the Chrysler Building and, more excitingly, a first glimpse of the Cunard berth in Brooklyn Terminal.

We wandered back to the apartment via Broadway and discovered that it had been given over to a huge street market selling loads of street food, cheap tee shirts and trinkets - a perfect souvenir hunting ground. Oddly, all the planters in the area are full of vegetables, particularly cabbages. There are carefully tended and completely left alone by the public - and I attracted some odd stares when I started to sample the types on offer! Clearly the concept of Gorilla Gardening hasn't caught on here yet!

But the day kept its best for last. We had tickets for the 1st premier of King Charles 3rd and made sure we were there in good time to bag our seats in a sell out house. The show has recently transferred from London and it was both engaging and funny, looking at what could happen if Charles came to the throne and then decided to use his position to interfere in Government. The scenario unfolds within a script  with realisticly portrayals of the royals, led on by Tim Piggott Smith as Charles. Let's just say that the audience left the theatre buzzing so it bodes well for a good run on Broadway.

But that's not all. Miles Richardson invited us along to the first night drinks reception, so we hob nobbed with the luvvies, Helen being a complete theatrical tart and getting introduced to Tim  P S. The cast were a really interesting bunch and the event really rounded off a fascinating five days in New York. 

In reality we barely scratched the city, never seeing Greenwich village, SoHo or TriBeCa, but it's good to leave something for another day. Tomorrow we board the Queen Mary 2 and start a long and elegant trip home across the Atlantic. It's boating Jim, but not as we know it!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

From Brooklyn to The Bronx

From Brooklyn to The Bronx
October 2015

Things became very steamy today and New York showed its summer face. The temperature was in the high 20's and rain was threatening.

Probably not a day for the cycle ride we had planned so we walked to the Circle Line pier on the Hudson River and used one of the five attraction phases to buy a pair of tickets on the "round the island" tour. Predictably, the section down to Manhattan and out to the Statue of Liberty was great, as was the run up the West River which gave a really good look at Brooklyn and the skyscrapers of Midtown. 

The northerly section was through an ever narrowing waterway which showed the less impressive side of New York and the commentator resorted to lengthy explanations about American Football and Baseball clubs which went a bit over my head. In some ways it had the feel of entering Birmingham or Manchester by canal, seeing the underbelly of the city. All in all it was a great way to get a feel for Manhattan Island as a whole and well worth a trip.

Fortunately the rain held off although the humidity was sky high and it was all very sticky!

We returned to Midtown at 4.00pm and as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) opens till 8.00 pm on Fridays we thought we would take a look. Big mistake! The museum is open free after 4.00 so it was more than rammed which caused us to turn back and leave it for another day.

With the storm clouds gathering around the towering skyscrapers we decided on an early meal and in desperation we literally stumbled across Ellen's Stardust Diner on Broadway. Oh wow! What a treat if you were just looking for a burger! Ellen's is renown for its singing waiters and the place comes complete with an MC and in turn all the waiters do their star turn, sometimes singing from the narrowest stage in town! It turns out that many of the waiters are actors between jobs and it's a good place to keep performing. With the rain hammering down we indulged in a pitcher of beer plus a dessert which pushed the bill up but it has to be said that the entertainment was well worth it.

But the night was young and at 10.30 we ventured out again to meet up with Miles Richardson in  Sardi's after his final rehearsal of King Richard 3rd which will be playing at The Music Box. We were ehtertained with thespian tales of years gone by, including stories from his youth when he lived in New York when his father played on Broadway. Miles guaranteed star treatment on hIs rerun to this watering hole by mistaking a 50 dollar bill for a 20 when he tipp the barman! Oops.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Liberty and Culture

Liberty and Culture
October 2015

We picked up the No1 downtown subway from near our 49th St apartment and rattled our way south to the final stop at the Staten Island ferry terminal. 

The world's most iconic view?

This was our first experience of the subway system and it's fair to say it shares most of the negative dimensions of the London version i.e. hot, smelly and crowded. But on top of that the ride is anything but smooth. But then it is certainly cheap - less than two pounds to ride anywhere so long as you only change once (and with the tracks faithfully following the gridiron streets above you only need to change once).

Manhattan skyine 2015

The station at Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan is a temporary affair as the main station is still being pumped out after hurricane a couple of years ago, and evidence of  the destruction remains ongoing. 

Statue of Liberty, New York Harbour

We used a pre booked ticket to Liberty Island and with the sky a cloudless blue we had fantastic views back over the Manhattan skyline, with the gleaming new One World Trade Centre rising majestically above the rest.

The selfie brigade

The Statue of Liberty is an impressive construction in itself, but more profound is the message it conveys and the aspiration it stands for. It's link to American patriotism is palpable and its a must visit site for any itinerary. 

We did stop off at Ellis Island, the gateway to America for millions of immigrants, but without any personal connection it was less than gripping. So we just watched a 30 min film and caught the boat back to New York.

We wandered into the financial district in search of lunch and came across George's, a family diner which managed to trade in the aftermath of the 9-11 disaster, but which was ultimately condemned as a result of broken foundations and water damage. Because the building was still standing the insurers refused to pay out so the family sold their assets and rebuilt at a cost of two million dollars. 

The new One World Trade Centre and Ground Zero

And so we found ourselves just a block from the 9 11 memorial and in spite of not intending to visit we stumbled into the site almost by accident. The two gaping chasms into which an endless cascade of water flows is very moving, ringed by the names of the thousands who lost their lives in the tragedy. The backdrop to this is an array of new glass fronted building which sparkled in the mid day sun - if nothing else the site demonstrates the resilience of New York.

The Opera House at The Lincoln Centre

By contrast we went all cultured in the evening, attending the premiere performance of Wagner's Opera, Tannhauser. The Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Centre is a majestic gilded setting and the ambiance of the event made up for a rather unengaging musical dimension. We were obliged to take pot luck with the opera and maybe Wagner is not really to our tastes. We stayed for two of the three acts (which were about already 3 hours long) and skipped the last.

Another big day in the city which never sleeps.