In November Belinda and I visited America. My cousin Edward was getting married in Fort Myers, and we were lucky enough to combine Florida with a trip to New York.
Our holiday began with an early morning alarm for a 9.30am flight. The first meal we had on the plane was chicken and pesto, a strange breakfast but when I washed it down with a double vodka orange I felt fully in the holiday spirit. It was early evening by the time we got to Fort Myers and after eating some pizza we were grateful to get some sleep.
For our first proper day in America we spent the morning by the pool before going for a walk around Downtown Fort Myers. It was really nice being somewhere permanently sunny and wearing shorts in November; the weather turned out to be more reliable than the England batting order. The next day we went to the idyllic and picturesque Captiva Island. With white sandy beaches and blazing sunshine it was a beautiful place to spend the day. On the drive back we had to stop as there was a tortoise crossing the road in front of us. Luckily a lady from a different car got out to pick it up and move it along. Given it was crossing at the speed of Brexit negotiations if she hadn’t helped we’d probably still be there now.
The following night, with the whole family in America for the wedding, we all went for a big family meal. The restaurant was in an incredible location by the water with cinematic views of the sunset. It was a lovely time for all of us, although the waiter may have wanted a lie down in a dark room afterwards.
Saturday the 18th was the day of the Wedding. We woke up to watch the Arsenal v Spurs match and followed that with a pre match swim before watching Manchester United v Newcastle. I don’t know if the Premier League have considered 10am kick-offs but having football on Saturday morning really suited me, freeing me up to enjoy the afternoon. The wedding itself was in a beautiful location and a great day was had by all. It was all in the same location, after the ceremony and meal we drank and danced the night away. I think my brother Christopher had to be peeled off the dance floor at the end of the night, he could give Debbie McGee a run for her money.
Weddings always fill me with feelings of joy and hope but I felt like death warmed up when the alarm sounded at 3am for us to get a taxi to the airport. With my body collapsing like opposition defences when playing against Manchester City. The flight from Fort Myers was particularly bumpy but eventually we landed in New York and made it to the hotel. After a nap and a doughnut we were feeling a lot better and went for a walk round in the evening. Our hotel was ideally placed for some iconic landmarks and it felt surreal seeing incredible buildings such as Grand Central Station and The Empire State Building in the flesh. To add to it I also bought a pretzel bigger than my head to munch on as I was perusing some of the most famous architecture in the world. We walked down to Time Square afterwards, which felt like the epicentre of global neon lighting.
On the way back we got a massive slice of cheesecake from a place called Juniors near Time Square (the best cheesecake I’ve ever eaten). A long and surreal day, given it started at 3am in a different part of America, but also a brilliant one and perfect start to our week in New York.
The following morning we went to do the Top Of The Rock where you take in the views from the top of the Rockefeller building. We found New York to be very accessible on foot, with the wide pavements and logical grid system on the roads making it easy to get about. The Rockefellar building was a 25 minute walk from Hotel and we had already booked tickets online. The queue to get to the top passes quite quickly, they have a photo booth and video about the buildings history as you wait to distract you from the fact your queuing. At the top the view was spectacular, it really showcases the enormity of New York and the views of Central Park and Empire State Building are breathtaking. There are a few levels to view the city from and the highest one while having brilliant views was a bit windy. We were lucky it was such a clear day and it felt like could see forever. We spent about an hour at the top of the tower before going to walk the High Line about 30 minutes away. The High Line is a rail line converted into a park and walkway free to stroll along. The relative tranquillity of the High Line was a nice contrast after the enormity of Top of the Rock. The walk culminates at Chelsea market, an indoor market full of independent food vendors where we stopped for food. It had more culinary variety than Bury market but sometimes quality trumps quantity and sadly there was none of Bury Market’s trademark black pudding.
In the evening we got a couple of slices of $1 takeaway pizza before heading to Madison Square Garden to watch the New York Knicks play basketball. It was brilliant to go to such a globally renowned sporting venue and I bought a t-shirt commemorating Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier’s 1971 fight in the stadium. The match itself between (Knicks v L.A. Clippers) was a little flat with the home side running out comfortable winners. I often feel basketball is a sport where 45min of entertainment is stretched out over two and a half hours but it was worth going to take in the spectacle.
On Tuesday Belinda and I walked along Brooklyn Bridge. Rammed with people I found it a bit stressful although it was all worth it when we got to the other side. We got lunch from Grimaldi’s pizzeria. There was a big queue but they were pretty efficient and it went down quickly. We got a small pizza to take away (and by small they meant massive!) it was quite expensive for a pizza but did taste delicious. We walked down to the Riverside and ate it while overlooking Manhattan. It was a magical view that I will always remember.
Afterwards we walked back across the bridge and down to Wall St. It was a strange place and very easy to tell the difference between ambling tourist like myself pottering about taking selfies, and the hard nose business people scything through the crowds in sharp suits to conclude their business deals. In the evening we went to a restaurant called Club A Steakhouse to have what I’m pretty sure is the best meal I’ve ever eaten. After the meal I hailed a New York taxi (got one first time, only been there 3 days but I felt a natural) and we went for some drinks. We ended up in a bar called Groove which had a really good band on. Initially we intended on staying for 1 drink but we ended up spending whole night there.
Wednesday was our first rainy day. In the morning we went to the site of the 9/11 memorial. They have built some water fountains where the Twin Towers once stood and it felt very tasteful. We then went in the museum next to the fountains, it was $24 to get in and you can pay extra for a formal tour but it is quite easy to follow it round and walk at your own pace. The first three quarters are mainly about how the building physically collapsed and the wall which holds back the Hudson river stands along one side of the museum. The last quarter focuses on the people who tragically lost their lives in the attack.
We spent about an hour and a half in the museum and by the time we walked out the weather had brightened up. We got the subway back uptown and grabbed some street food from place called The Halal Guys which we then ate in Central Park (something I’d advise anyone visiting New York to do). The two hours that followed were a bit of a blur as Belinda entered an almost trance like state make-up shopping in Sephora on 5th avenue.
In the evening we met up with my friend Laura. After some food and a few drinks we went to a midnight show at the Comedy Cellar, they had 6 acts that were all very funny before ending with a surprise slot from Dave Chappelle. Chappelle was brilliant and had the entire room eating out of the palm of his hand. It was 3am by the time it finished and as well as it being lovely to see Laura for the first time in a while it was also nice to experience why the song refers to New York as the city that doesn’t sleep ahead of my first Thanksgiving.
Although I didn’t feel too thankful a few hours later when my alarm went off. Belinda and I dragged ourselves out of bed to go and see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was completely worth the sleep deprivation and great to see the massive inflatables that made up the parade. Although we didn’t get there early, so were a few rows back, much of the parade was so big and high up it didn’t really matter and we were able to find a good spot to enjoy it. It is strange that such a massive and famous parade is effectively a marketing tool for a department store. I don’t know if Debenhams have ever thought about doing the same.
That evening we went for Thanksgiving dinner at The Smith in East Village, and were confronted by more food than any two people should have on a table in front of them. It was an ideal informal and friendly atmosphere for our first Thanksgiving but I did need a big lie down afterwards.
We started our final day by getting the subway to South Ferry and from there it is a short walk through a gauntlet of sales people trying to sell their private tour but past them is the free commuter ferry to Staten Island. The ferry goes right past the Statue Of Liberty and was definitely worth doing. As there are more tourists than commuters it is quite funny at the end as we all exit the boat and head straight back onto the return trip. That afternoon we got the subway to North Central Park and meandered our way through one of the most famous parks in the world. Stopping along the way to get a cookie from Levain Bakery, it was nice to stretch our legs ahead of the flight back home.
We both loved New York, it is an incredible vibrant culturally rich city packed full of things to see and do. It is so easy to get about on foot and with a lot of the street food vendors reasonably priced you can definitely do the daytime activities on a budget. Paula Radcliffe won the 2007 New York marathon running round the city in an impressive 2hr 23. It took me and Belinda a week to get around although we stopped to take in the sites a bit more. Our whole holiday was a joy from start to finish, although America doesn’t share my taste in Presidents I am fully on board with their approach to portion sizes and tourism. Much more fun than partaking in a bushtucker trial.