It’s taken a while for this last post and yes we have been back in England for over 3 months! But as the date is now the 27th February exactly a year since we left, it seemed right that the book should be closed, to come full circle in 365 days.
Absolutely shattered with virtually no sleep on our ‘red eye’ flight from Las Vegas we arrived into La Guardia airport in the New York borough of Queens at around 5.30am. We had pre-booked our first night a few days ago as rooms were being booked up fast, mainly due to the New York marathon happening on the weekend we were there. We weren’t having much luck over the last week with events, if its not Halloween it’s a bloody marathon!
Driving from the airport from Queens into Manhattan at dawn the surroundings again like so may places in America felt so familiar, but New York felt almost like home even though we’d never been before. There was a chill in the air, not much traffic around, and the sun was just about casting its light across the Manhattan skyline. New York was just about to come to life.
When we arrived at our 81st street hostel we weren’t ready to go anywhere and all we wanted to do was sleep. As everyone in the dormitory was leaving for the day we crashed into our new beds and got some rest.
Sabrina has two Uncles living in Queens, so we had arranged to meet up with them while we were in New York, we didn’t quite expect them to turn up at the hostel knocking on our dormitory door within a few hours of arriving. It was good to see them and we headed out together and grabbed a burger from a nearby restaurant whilst catching up. They were all for us staying with them over in Queens but we were only in New York for a few days and it was much more practical to stay in the hostel then to stay a 20 minute tube ride away.
As with all the other places in America we’d been to, walking around New York was truly surreal. Catching the subway downtown to Times Square was almost like a journey we’d done a hundred times before. Walking up the subway steps and emerging in the incredibly busy 52nd Street or Times Square you can’t help but be blown away by the size, the lights and the amount of people. Every now and again the Empire State building would appear standing proud as the landmark of New York and we’d also catch glimpses of the beautiful Chrysler building.
The marathon was on the next day so New York was almost closed to traffic, It was a chilly fall morning so was a perfect time to walk through Central Park. Joggers with or without dog taking a morning run or warming up for the marathon racing all around the massive 6 square mile park.
There is so much to do in New York it has to be taken in bits, after our wander through central park we took the subway down to Battery Park in the very south of Manhattan to catch the Ellis Island ferry. Sections of the subway were closed because of the Marathon so the last half mile or so was on a bus. Security was super tight and the large crowd waiting to board the ferry were ushered through a large white tent with x-ray machines airport style. While we waited we chomped on a large cheese stuffed pretzel whilst catching our first glimpse of the Statue Of Liberty across the water of New York harbour.
Once on the water the views looking back to the familiar Manhattan skyline were superb. Looking at the height of the buildings that were there its hard to imagine the twin towers soaring high into the sky , it was hard to imagine just how tall they were. As part of the short journey over to Ellis Island the ferry took a short detour around Liberty Island to get a closer look at the Statue Of Liberty and the masses of people that visit the island.
Ellis Island was the main entrance point for immigrants into the USA from 1892 until 1954. Upon closure up to 12 million people passed through Ellis Island, although the peak years had passed long before the actual closure in 1954. We spent a few hours there taking the audio tour around the immigration buildings learning a bit about the history of the island and the history of New York.
Sabrina’s great grand parents passed through Ellis Island many years ago and due to the harshness of the immigration rules one of their daughters was ill from the ferry journey over to New York and was detained. Eventually she died from Pneumonia a few short months after landing in America. Some of Sabrina’s family stayed in New York and some eventually returning back to the UK. It’s crazy to imagine 12 million people with dreams of making a better life passing through that one building being examined and questioned, families being split up and families being reunited. After departing the ferry back from Ellis Island we walked the short distance north up to the World Trade Centre complex. Obviously the whole area is a building site and blocked off the pedestrians but there are areas you can have a look into the vast space where the twin towers once stood.
With a list of things to do a hundred items long we crossed off another and took the subway up Greenwich Village. The legendary West 4th Street was the Subway exit point and after a short walk we found ourselves right in the heart of bohemian Greenwich Village standing at the West 4th Street and MacDougal Street junction. The Greenwich village landmark Café Wha? helped launch the musical careers of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and The Velvet Underground among many others. Another club that made Bob Dylan famous is the Gaslight, sadly there was no longer a club at the address but just seeing these buildings and imagining the scene back then was enough. As well as being the street on the Freewheelin’ cover, Bob Dylan’s first flat was actually on West 4th Street, oddly now an adult shop but still there and great to see.
The next morning was another fresh New York morning and our Ney York breakfast of scrambled eggs, hash browns and bacon followed by strong black coffee went down a treat.
December 8 1980 John Lennon was shot dead outside the Dakota apartment building on the corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West which was just around the corner from our hostel, we took a small detour on our way down town and walked to the apartment building. Right opposite the building in Central Park is the memorial garden Strawberry Fields where fresh flowers are laid every day in Lennon’s memory.
For an unrivalled view of New York a trip up the Rockefeller Building or ‘top of the rock’ is a must and allows you to view the Empire State Building along with the rest of Manhattan. It was a chilly but crisp day and the views were amazing, seeing the narrow grid road system cutting through the skyscrapers on Manhattan island. The whole Manhattan island was visible with the enormous Central Park lying in the middle of the island.
It was nearing Christmas and although the tree hadn’t been erected at the bottom of the tower outside the Rockefeller Plaza the other symbol of a New York Christmas was there; the ice rink. It was a bit dizzying with all the sights. The Rockefeller Ice Rink was right on the famous shopping street of Fifth Avenue which was near the world famous music Hall; Radio City, there was always something to run across the road to see. A remarkable building was Grand Central Station, a massively grand and beautifully maintained building with an amazingly decorated exterior.
Throughout our trip we had been to numerous China Towns so we had to visit NY Chinatown, as usual a bustling series of streets with shops selling cheap tat and cheap food and fruit stalls. Lying right next to Chinatown was Little Italy where we had some cheap food. The weather was really nice and the heat was getting up so we sat out on the street soaking up the bustling NY street life.
We had agreed to visit Sabrina’s Uncles before we left so we got the Subway for the 20 minute ride over to Queens. By the time we took the subway it was dark and Manhattan was all in lights as we emerged from under the river into Queens borough, displaying why it is one of the most spectacular looking cities in the world. We spent a few hours at their house and had dinner there leaving early enough to pay another visit to Greenwich to walk through the legendary streets. Already stuffed from our late lunch and the big chicken dinner we’d just had we skipped the food and just had a few drinks before the Dylan gig, oh forty years to late for that one.
Waking up on our last day was horrible, our 8 ½ month journey was almost over, one more day. As we moved our bags down to the storage room a random piece of paper that I’d not seen in months just suddenly dropped on the floor with details of our February 27th flight from London to Delhi. Later on in the day sat on a subway train a couple of Indians were sat opposite with a huge box with a Rajasthan address written on. Completely random things that if it wasn’t our last day we wouldn’t have though anything of it.
We had our last breakfast at our new favourite coffee shop and then set off shopping. It was our last day we had some money left so as the dollar was weak and the pound was strong we went searching for things to take back home. Our taxi to the airport wasn’t until 5ish so we had most of the day to hunt out bargains and get back to the 81st street hostel. We did plan on finishing shopping earlier and getting back to near our hostel and having a last meal and drink at one of the nice restaurants around there but near 4pm we were rushing around like crazy around the streets of New York and eventually got back about 4.30pm and chose a bar just around the corner from the hostel and had a quick couple of drinks. After many many months of travelling, many drinks in many different countries we sat down and congratulated each other on what we’d done and sank a couple of well earned beers on Columbus Street.
Our taxi drive to JFK airport was slightly stressful as it was rush hour and the driver wasn’t in any rush as we waited for a half hour outside a posh hotel for a couple that never turned up. Most of the journey after that was spent arguing with the driver! Once in the airport we then had the problem of baggage weight. On top of our already bulging backpacks we had bought a load of clothes including three pairs of trainers a pair of boots and some records that I’d picked up in California, we needed to work out how to get all this through without having to pay extra. The answer was to wear everything we could, throw away any rubbish, keep our heads down and hope for the best. Our bags were bang on the limit but our hand luggage was bulging with two pieces of luggage each plus a bag of records. With our heads down we sailed through the first security check without drawing too much attention and breathed a sigh of relief at the other end! Short lived though we must have attracted some unwanted attention when we had our luggage all over the airport floor as when we went to board the flight we were both picked out of a line up of people to have our hand luggage checked, hearts beating fast we went over & after a quick rummage through the bags we were sent on our way.
So, our final flight was here, our ticket book was empty, the circle was almost complete. The journey was over, this journey anyway - plenty of time for another one.