Monday, 19 January 2015

Although Christmas takes up most of this missive, I mustn’t forget the great victory of the Vignols bowls team v St Robert. Although the teams comprise mainly ex pats, we have a number of French players. Last week we had a young French lady play with us while her baby watched from his portable play pen! Anyway we thrashed St Robert, and then all enjoyed a great lunch out together at a local Auberge.

Knowing we were going to be away for Christmas made preparing for it a lot easier, no decorations, no tree, no food to buy. We bought everyone in the family Italian leather-bound notebooks with their names embossed on them – it will be interesting to ask in a year or so what went in them.

I currently have two SSAFA cases, where there are people with military connections who may need some help. Obviously I cannot give any details, but it is certainly very satisfying to be able to point people in the right direction for assistance.

And so to the main event – Christmas in New York! I booked the tickets from Toulouse via Madrid to JFK with Iberia. Paris is really too far away and there was no point in going back to UK. One suggested flight was with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul – seemed the long way, although as somebody remarked you would get an extra meal! I also completed the visa waiver forms so they would let us in.

After taking the dogs to their holiday accommodation the previous day we left home at just after 5 for Toulouse. As always when you leave plenty of time everything went totally smoothly and we had a 3 hour wait at the airport. The link flight to Madrid was fine, and we changed terminals and found the JFK flight without any problems. The flight was about 6 hours, as boring as they always are, although the in-flight entertainment and food were OK.

Rachel met us at the airport and had arranged for a car to take us all to her apartment in Manhattan. It is a smashing flat, just the right size for her, and very comfortable. It is very central and is only a 10 minute walk from her work. NY drivers, especially the cabbies, seem to have a love affair with their horns. Not so bad during the day, but honestly at 2am? One thing that did surprise me was that most of the cars were much smaller than I had expected, and there were lots of Japanese models, Toyotas, Hondas etc, even among the taxis. . Many of these are built in the USA, but maybe even the Americans are looking for slightly better mileage!

We decided to do most of our exploring of Manhattan on foot, normally ending up footsore and weary and taking a taxi back to Rachel’s. We looked at Madison Avenue, where Rachel works, the Flatiron Building, Park Avenue, Macy’s Store (great idea just before Christmas, not) and lots of other sights. We walked around Greenwich Village, and visited the memorial site to the Twin Towers victims.

Probably the high point in every sense was our visit to the Empire State Building. I booked tickets on line, and as it was likely to be a one-off, I got the Express tickets. These were BRILLIANT. We got there to find long queues, but we were ushered past everyone and into an Express lift. OK the viewing galleries on the 86th and 102nd floors were just as crowded, but we got to see everything and take our photos. Worth every cent.

One of the reasons we wanted to go up the Empire State was that we could see it from Rachel’s bedroom. They change the colours in which t is lit up for different occasions, we had Hanukkah, Christmas and the colours of two college (American) football teams playing a semi-final in New York. 

Another day Rae took us on the Staten Island Ferry – excellent value as it is free. You get a fantastic view of the NY skyline, plus you sail past the Statue of Liberty Island and you get a great view of that as well.

Our big cultural expeditions were to the NY Public Library, amazing building, where the original Winnie the Pooh Bear lives. The really big day out was to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We arrived too early so had a very pleasant walk around the bit of Central park behind the gallery. There was quite a queue but we got in very quickly, and Rachel had found us some complementary tickets. The place was absolutely awesome, so many familiar pictures and artists, you didn’t know where to start. Even though there were large crowds it was big enough to absorb them, and we saw everything we wanted to – although it would take far longer than we had to begin to do it justice.

Even having a haircut was something of an experience. Good trim – check. Chat with barber – check. Hot towel – check.  Even shoulder massage – check. Would I like a glass of whiskey or vodka – er, pass! All for $20.

While Rachel cooked us a fantastic Christmas lunch with all the trimmings, and lots of other nice meals, we also ate out a few times. As Rachel had chosen them all the places were good – but we particularly liked the brunches we had at the Lyric cafĂ© – good food at great prices.

We were really lucky with the weather – we packed our wellies and warm jumpers, but the temperature kept nicely well above zero (centigrade). Just cold enough to keep us moving on our walks! Another great place was Grand Central Station - so impressive that you almost forget that there are actually trains leaving from there!

 Even the best things have to come to an end, so on our last day we had a final brunch and Rae waved us goodbye. The trip from JFK to Madrid was long but bearable, we even landed early. This meant we only had 2 ½ hours to wait for our connection in an empty Madrid airport at 5am! Anyway we recovered the car from Toulouse and had a 2 hour drive home. By the time we got there we decided to leave picking up the dogs until the next day.

We missed seeing in the New Year by several hours as we had been up some 26 hours. When we went to get the dogs they were very pleased to see us, but they seem to have had a great time. Debbie who looked after them has fallen for Icare, and he even got a Christmas present, which he is still playing with (minus it’s stuffing).

Back now to the calm of the Correze. I managed to pick up a bug on the way back, but am feeling much better now. There’s a lot to be said for marrying a nurse with experience of tending to the elderly! Back too to the round of bowls, eating out, markets etc – great!