Here it is, the day you've all been waiting for: the seventh and final instalment of the NYC diaries. Brought to you by me via the travel journal I kept during a trip the Man and I took to New York over half term. We had a pretty terrific time and because I like to collect my memories, I wrote down a lot of our experiences, partly to blog, but mostly to scrapbook and because I enjoy it. And here is the result: the incredibly wordy and yet still unbelievably edited down version of Day 7...
Our last day in NYC dawned and we got up sensibly to pack up our belongings. We tidied round and had to leave our little home away from home. But not before we clocked a couple of selfies in the big mirror.
Better when there's two of you.
Although a bit of practise may be required.
I will miss the apartment's little kitchen area with its lovely table top, island and doors flung open to the patio to let in the morning sunshine while we breakfast. None of that on this morning however: we had to leave by ten and so set off with our luggage for the subway station, in search of luggage storage and some brunch. However, when we got to the subway it was so rammed that we doubted our ability to crowd onto the train with our excess baggage and so opted to hit Saraghina for brunch and try the subway later outside rush hour. Plantastic.
With the abandoned subway behind us, we arrived at our local Italian bringing the holiday full circle. We stowed our bags behind the counter and sat inside this time. But for nostalgia both ordered the same as last time. Nostalgia and yummies. So avocado on toast with radish and an egg sunny up for me it is then. And it was even better than I remembered with the avocado mashed and mixed with lime and chill, more like guacamole, and the egg fried to perfection with a runny yolk.
Back to the subway for take two and it was bye bye Brooklyn. Once we hopped out in Manhattan, the Man found us a luggage storage place to stash our bags (4 floors up in the least reliable-looking lift you can imagine, where we exceeded recommended occupancy on every journey!) and we headed to Grand Central Terminal.
I love Grand Central Terminal! We had booked onto a tour to learn a bit about its history and we had half an hour to ourselves first to wander, and take some pictures. Actually, we almost missed the tour as we were waiting in the wrong place, but the Guide had waited for us which was very kind, as we clattered over and apologised.
The tour was about 90 minutes and very interesting: the lady clearly knew her stuff and loved sharing it. We had a little ear piece each so that we could hear her over the bustle: the station was full of people coming and going, doing underwear photoshoots(?) and wedding shoots(??).
Tour facts acquired as follows:
Grand central station was originally established when New York was a city at the tip of Manhattan. It was built by the Vanderbilts amid farmland as a stop on the railway line they had purchased.
New York got bigger and engulfed the station. Noisy and smokey steam trains were gradually prohibited from entering the city until they had to stop at Grand Central, which stopped being a station and was rebuilt all fancy as Grand Central Terminal. Swishy!
The light bulbs don't have shades or covers because when they were put in, electric lights were a classy novelty and the designers didn't want people to mistakenly assume the lighting was gas.
The famous astrological ceiling is actually backwards. The painters blamed the designers (Italian?) and vice versa for looking at the diagram the wrong way. In the end, the owners never acknowledged that the constellations are back to front: they said it was intentional to do the view as God sees it: from above the stars looking down.
The station fell into disrepair and became a total dive until restoration began in 1991. As the ceiling was cleaned, it's beautiful azure blue was revealed and so a little square was left unpolished so that everyone would be reminded not to let it happen again. The little square is almost black with dirt and cigarette fumes.
The statue on the entrance outside was designed by a Frenchman who then refused to come and see it in place because the Americans and their idea of art made him sad. Poncy Europeans!
There are only entrances on three sides of Grand Central Terminal, as apparently when it was built, it was thought no one would want to enter from the south side as the people who lived there were too impoverished to use the train. And the rich elite didn't want to have to look at them. Another win for society then.
After the tour, we had worked up a thirst. We toured the extensive food court in the basement but nothing jumped out at us. So we got tea in a beer shop in the terminal. Obvs.
A chance glance in the window of a gift shop then led to the acquisition of a new pair of socks each. Mine are purple knee-highs featuring flying unicorns with rainbow wings. The Man's are a more manly black, but feature tacosauruses (picture a stegosaurus but with a taco for a body. See? Genius).
Before long it was time to collect our bags, exceed the maximum occupancy of the rickety lift, and get a cab to the aeroplane station. We flagged one down on the street with excellent flair. The traffic was busy but it was still kind of cool to glide through the Manhattan streets and see the skyscrapers loom overhead through the sunroof.
Especially once the Man figured out that you could switch off the mindlessly absorbing prattle of taxi TV.
We went through a tunnel to leave Manhattan and enter what I think was Brooklyn. Traffic was bad, but the driver promised to get us to the airport by 4:00 even if he "had to drive like a crazy person"
To be fair, he did get us there on time and his driving wasn't really crazy. And thus commenced our final holiday experience: first class flights home. If you have to go back to reality, go back in style. The Man used all the Avios he had accrued throughout the year, traveling for work, and was able to book us first class flights home for just the cost of taxes.
So we entered JFK and went to check in at the private first class check-in desk, so you don't have to queue. Once we had checked our bags, we were not only escorted to the fast track security, but taken to the front of it. Apparently if you travel first, you don't do queueing.
When booking our tickets the Man did a ton of research to make sure we could maximise the experience, as let's face it, this is probably the only time I will ever get to fly first class. So he knew what to expect, but most of the treats in store were surprises for me!
If you're going to treat yourself, it seems that the BA flight from NYC to LDN is a pretty flagship route. This is emphasised by the fact that airport has its normal lounge, its club world lounge (for business class and Club World types) and then an exclusive first class lounge called the Concord room.
They greeted us at the entrance, offered us newspapers, promised to call us when we needed to go for our flight and said that we could dine in the lounge before our flight. (Complimentary, of course). The lounge was plush and hushed with only a few people scattered about among the armchairs. It was so exciting, in no small part because there was an open bar and nibbles everywhere!
I acquired a glass of wine for us each and also helped myself to breadsticks, white chocolate and macadamia cookies, almonds, cashews, apple cider and all the Green Triangles from a bowl full of quality street. How fabulous!
Having polished that off (I think of them as appetisers) and sent the wine the same way, we found a table in the dining area and were brought menus by a waiter. Oh, and a wine list on an iPad, so we opted for another glass of the white. It helped to soak up all the appetisers.
We browsed the menu while our bread basket arrived and then I ordered lobster bisque with a crispy wonton, followed by cod over a bed of tomato chickpeas with crispy polenta; the Man laughed and ordered the same. Great minds!
The little bread rolls were delish as another appetiser and also as an accompaniment to the bisque which was creamy and warming. And lobstery, I suppose. The wine went down very nicely and so did the cod which just fell apart. I wolfed it all down with immense satisfaction. We decided to share a dessert and had pumpkin pie cheesecake with maple ice cream, raspberries and crushed ginger nuts and two spoons. So many flavours of autumn, it was absolutely lovely.
The Man mused that first class isn't really how the other half live, however. Because the other half have private jets. So really, first class is for riff raff.
I like being riff raff.
Once we'd cleared our plate, our flight was announced and it was time to board. On the way out of the lounge, I plundered the quality street bowl again; they'd topped it up and there were more green triangles. Good service!
Again, no queueing for us and we sauntered to the desk. Actually, at this point, the slightly harassed-looking chap on the gate eyed us suspiciously and asked where we were sitting. I don't think we look very first class, darling. More like chancers and queue dodgers. However, once we waved our magic tickets at him, we were shown onto the plane.
An air steward showed us to our seats, and oh my goodness, what seats! There are only twelve, all forward facing and with masses of space. Again, the Man's research had come into play as most of the seats are singles, meaning that if you want to talk to someone, you have to holler across the aisle. However, we were side by side, but with a little blind we could draw if we wanted to! I hung up my jacket in my seat's individual wardrobe (???!!) and as I was settling in to get comfy was asked by the cabin crew if I would like some flight pyjamas.
Seriously: they hand out pyjamas! I hesitated for a second, not because I didn't want them, but simply to give my head the chance to process flight pyjamas. Then I yes-pleased enthusiastically and was presented with navy BA jammies embroidered with a little "First" logo and tied up with a ribbon. Obviously I also needed slippers to go with these and a fancy washbag full of little sample size moisturisers and creams and serums. Unpacking the washbag and trying not to squeal in an undignified way filled the time until the complimentary champagne and the personal greeting that the cabin crew came to give us. It was really aimed at the Man as the frequent-flier and ticket-booker extraordinaire, but it was still very cool.
We had to finish off our champagne before take off, but the crew very kindly took our order for a kir royale each as soon as we were in the air, because the idea of being without champagne for a few minutes is clearly almost intolerable.
First class: where it's perfectly normal for the flight crew to ask you if you have enough champagne. And perfectly normal for your response to be "yes thanks" because you have SO MUCH CHAMPAGNE.
Whole most of the rest of the cabin opted to sleep after take-off, we did no such thing. It turns out you get three course meal on board the plane too, so we perused the menu and ordered and then watched excitedly as the cabin crew expertly converted my chair area into two seats facing one another over a table. Complete with white table cloth, salt and pepper shakers and ranks of cutlery. The man and I were able to dine opposite one another restaurant style which was awesome: seriously, who knew they could do that?
I started with spicy Hong Kong-style soup before moving onto chicken and mushroom pot pie with mash and gravy. Really good gravy. In fact, really good pie all round. The Man had a salad as I think he was flagging a bit. He even had to decline a pudding, but I was undecided between the hot chocolate and cookies, or the chocolate and forest fruits mousse dish when the cabin crew came to take our order. While I dithered over the decision, she offered to bring us both and two spoons. The Man being utterly defeated, he declined, but I stepped up to the plate and said I'd have both desserts anyway. A good choice as the mousse was so creamy and light, encased in a chocolate shell and full of juicy berries. I slurped down my hot chocolate but couldn't quite manage all the cookies. Must have been all those Quality Street.
We took selfies and dinner selfies and pyjama selfies and one of the cabin crew took a picture for us which was very kind. Actually, none of these photos are brilliant, but the Man pointed out that he didn't care. He's not looking for a perfect photo: just a reminder of a lovely moment that says hey, we were here and we did this and it was wonderful.
I popped to the loo and gossiped with the lovely cabin crew who looked very kindly on the fact that we were getting a massive kick out of First Class. The nice lady who brought me two desserts asked if I had enjoyed the chocolate mousse; there had been a spare and so the flight crew had been able to share it. I agreed that it had many yummies. I thanked her for letting me have double pudding and said that I only couldn't finish the cookies as I had also had a three course meal at the airport immediately before this meal. She laughed and asked if I still wanted waking for breakfast, as that would be in about three hours: midnight NYC time, but about 5:00am London time. Emphatic yes: if the food is free (complementary, I know) and delicious, then I am eating it! Even if that means getting up after three hours in the middle of the night to eat breakfast before landing. Necessary. I will just make sure I digest harder.
There was so much to experience: dinner, cocktails, films, pyjamas, sleeping in a bed, breakfast... And only eight hours!
The nice lady flight attendant said my husband didn't want waking for breakfast. (His capacity for food being smaller than mine. Or perhaps his determination to maximise his capacity for food) I explained that the Man wasn't my husband, but my partner. I later realised that my boarding pass had a typo and said Mrs Smith, so I wonder if the flight crew thought we were having an affair. Salacious!
We were the only people there it seems getting a massive kick out of first class. I can't imagine being blasé about the experience; some passengers went to sleep as soon as the plane took off. Seems a bit sad: why pay thousands of pounds to nod off?
While I got into my jammies and played with my shiny new washbag, the flight attendants converted my seat into a bed, reclining the seat flat, adding a little mattress over the seat and footrest, topping the lot with a quilt and making sure I had all my pillows. Lovely! So I snuggled in for a kip.
I slept well. It was lovely! I woke up at about ten to midnight NYC time. It was dark on the plane and I regretted checking the time on my phone as part of me was saying bedtime but my better self knew it was almost time to get up and have breakfast. I decided I might as well put myself in London time and so when midnight rolled around, I switched to 5:00am and the cabin crew started serving breakfast.
I decided to be a lady of leisure and so while my bed turned back into a chair, I reclined it and broke my fast while still pyjama-clad and with a David Attenborough documentary to watch.
I started with the smoothie: lime, coconut and banana, and then opted for the onion tart with two poached eggs, mushrooms and roasted tomatoes. Initially they said they'd run out, but then the flight attendant popped back to let me know they'd found another one, so all the win! I washed this down with a tea - they brought me a proper cup and saucer and teapot all spread out on my tablecloth, and I finished with an apple and cinnamon pastry. Perfect.
The end of the flight rolled round with inevitability. The Man woke in time for a quick pot of tea before we landed, a few minutes early at Heathrow. We scanned our passports, collected our luggage, found our waiting cab and journeyed home.
Good bye New York. For now
P.S. If you are fascinated by this saga, and would like the full collection of radish facts, you can find Day One here, Day Two here, Day Three here, Day Four here, Day Five here and Day Six here.