Last one of the year (unless the neighbours pull off a surprise New Year’s Eve one…)
Before we moved over to the US, we made a list of all the places we wanted to visit during our time here, knowing that we probably wouldn’t manage them all in the time we had. New York City was not one of the places on that list because we’d already visited it, for five days back in 2005. I was excited by the city back then, but part of me thought that this was just because it was my first visit to the States and the whole experience was totally new and awesome. So I wondered whether, having now lived in this fine country for more than a couple of years and become used to the place and the people, I would actually like NYC as much now that I have other great American cities to compare it to.
Like I say, we were in no rush to visit NYC. We made the decision to return for one reason and one reason only. The Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. Having watched it on TV for the last two years, we felt it was an experience that we wanted to see up close for ourselves, and this was likely to be our last chance to do it. Neither of us are fans of large crowds of people, so I actually don’t know what possessed us to visit the most popular city in the US on the busiest weekend of the year, but we booked our hotel a year in advance and then there was nothing stopping us. Except the weather (almost). Having had unseasonably warm, sunny temperatures of around 24c in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, suddenly a huge snowstorm was predicted for most of the North East of the country, potentially bringing a large area to a standstill and ruining Thanksgiving for a lot of people. Having heeded the warnings, we took the sensible option of leaving home a night early and stopping halfway, then arriving in the city a few hours ahead of the predicted snow. Which, of course, never arrived in NYC. Well, it did snow quite a bit but it never stuck, so we had a picturesque view of the city without too many problems. Although it was chuffing chilly. I still maintain that it was colder during our 2005 trip (and there was a lot more snow then too) however this may be because I wore my giant padded coat for the whole of this trip, which I only managed to buy towards the end of the last trip and therefore froze for most of that time.
So, having seen all the big sights in 2005, and being in the city on one of the busiest weekends of the year, we decided to avoid almost all the touristy things and just hang out and watch the world go by. We made it to the parade and it wasn’t as crowded as we expected, but maybe we picked a good spot by the side of Central Park. We didn’t need to get there ridiculously early and we had a great view. As well as lots of huge inflatables, the parade involves floats with famous people riding on them. 90% of them were completely unknown to us, which I am going to maintain was because they were American and not because I’m out of touch with the Yoof of Today. I later watched the parade on TV where you helpfully get captions to tell you who everyone is, and I have to say I was still not really any the wiser even with the names …. I was very pleased when Big Bird went past, and I thought that would be the highlight for me. Then I saw the Harlem Globetrotters and thought it surely couldn’t get any better … However I was beyond excited when KISS came past on a float. The parade stopped for a minute or two and I had the pleasure of standing about ten feet away from them, watching Tommy trying to look mean and moody whilst also waving (clue: it didn’t really work). The only other celebrity I recognised was Idina Menzel, so I don’t know what that says about the breadth (or perhaps randomness) of my musical knowledge.
We also made it to the Top of the Rock, having done the Empire State Building on our last visit. The advantage with the Rock is that you can see both the Chrysler Building and the ESB from it. (The disadvantage is having to spend all day listening to the husband going “Welcome to The Rock” like he’s a budget Sean Connery and we’re in Alcatraz all over again.) Actually, at this point I may revise my thoughts about it not being so cold in NYC on this visit. It was officially about -1c on our way up to the top, and with the height and the wind chill and whatever other important factors, it was cold enough to cause huge pain in my hands when I temporarily (and foolishly) took off my gloves to take a photo. It took quite some time for them to thaw out and stop hurting again.
We did go back to one place from our original visit, The View in Times Square. It’s a revolving bar at the top of a hotel and I think it does one complete revolution per hour. This time around it wasn’t such a surprise when I came back from the toilet and found my table had moved. It was just as good as we remembered it, and a fitting place to celebrate the husband’s birthday.
The rest of our days were spent pottering around the lesser populated areas of the city. Leaving aside the madness of Black Friday, we spent a morning wandering around Central Park, this time not blanketed with several feet of snow and instead covered with runners (last time I don’t remember seeing another soul). My absolute favourite meander, though, has to be Greenwich Village. Having read lots of memoirs about the city in the early 70s and 80s, I was keen to have a look around. Obviously it has changed beyond all recognition since those times but it still has a bohemian vibe about it. I was pleased to be able to avoid Starbucks and hunt out some good coffee shops like Birch, who leave conversation cards on their tables to encourage their patrons to meet new people (and I have to say their coffee was one of the best I have EVER had).
This time around, I definitely saw NYC through different eyes, as I’m very used to the US now and so I was happy to potter around and not necessarily stick to the big touristy things. However, I am definitely still as much in love with the city as I was on my first visit. It’s definitely up there with San Diego and Boston as one of the places I could actually live. Looks like I will have to persuade the husband back for a third visit in the future (maybe when the temperatures are above freezing).
At the last minute, I decided to enter a free 5K fun run event, just because it meant I could run somewhere different for a change. The weather was surprisingly humid which made it challenging, to say the least. The first mile was the second fastest that I have ever run, at 8:38. My fastest was 8:29 on the treadmill, when I knew I could stop immediately afterwards. Well, I definitely peaked on the first mile, and the second and third were considerably slower. At 28:18, I didn’t quite beat my personal best, but I did somehow take home the trophy for the third fastest female in my age group. Get in!!!
We signed up for this race back in the very early part of 2014 and it seemed to take forever to come round, but it was certainly worth the wait. The pain of leaving the house at 6am in the dark and cold was immediately lessened by the sight of countless superheroes, Turtles, Minions, witches and other randomly assorted crazy folk. Once the sun rose, the morning warmed up fairly rapidly – or was it just the glow of happiness from being surrounded by all the others who also wanted to get dressed up and run 10K just for fun (and beer)?
It will be no surprise, looking at the above photo, to know that I dressed as Batman for the occasion. Worryingly, the husband took absolutely no persuading to be Robin, in fact I think it may have even been his idea, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that this involved wearing a ladies’ Tshirt and perturbingly small ladies’ green shorts. One of my favourite moments of the race was when, a few metres ahead of the finish line, The Joker appeared out of nowhere and slapped us both on the back as he overtook. It should have been frustrating, but it was a poetically perfect Gotham moment.
During the race and at the beach party afterwards, we had plenty of opportunity to admire the other runners’ costumes. Prizes were given for the best individual and group costumes, and it was astonishing to me that this effort only came second:
The submarine itself was made up of five or six different parts, all of which were handpainted on each side, and which came apart so the women inside could each run the race (note that the women had the difficult job of running inside massive boxes while the clearly lazier and/or less fit men just wore suits!). This amazing effort was beaten into second place by Johnny Depp Through the Ages, which was a group of about ten people all dressed as various of JD’s film characters, plus a gigantic Headless Horseman that they had constructed and took turns in pushing along the 10K route, Don’t get me wrong, the sight of so many Johnny Depps at once is something that will stay with me for a very long time, but I think Sgt Pepper was robbed…
Another of the more noteworthy participants was the guy who dressed as a Mexican, well, if you can call a microscopic pair of budgie-smugglers and a tiny guitar a “costume”. In case you’re wondering where he attached his race number, it was stuck to the back of his tiny guitar (and yes, I did have to stare for a while before I spotted it). Although he didn’t win a costume prize, he won major respect from me and a lot of other people because he finished within the top thirty out of over 5000 runners, and also because he braved the early morning cold (un)dressed like that (although it did warm up considerably for the beach party and I almost got a “Batman Tan” before I remembered to remove my mask).
There are plenty of pictures of the other amazing costumes over at the Wicked 10 Facebook page, and I recommend you have a look before asking yourself how the heck the guy in the Beetlejuice costume managed to run dressed like that?
Oh, did you want to know how well I actually did in this race? Well, my time was 59:39.2 overall, placing me 1,488 out of 5,385 finishers. I felt I could have run slightly faster, possibly equalling my personal best, however the start and finish lines were very crowded which certainly slowed my progress a bit. I finished 134th out of 602 in my age group, and 711th out of 3,598 females, so I was well within the top 30% in all categories. Most importantly, I had a great day and got to meet The Flash and KISS !! (possibly not the real ones though.)
Well I have been really lazy recently when it comes to blogging about my running (or anything else), even though I haven’t been too lazy with the running itself! I’ve been keeping a tally all year of how far I’ve actually run, partly to help with my training and partly to know when it’s time to buy new running shoes 😀 (which I have just been treated to!) . I also set myself a goal to see whether I could run as far as New York before we actually visit the city at the end of this month (in fact, in eight days time…). Having never run a lot before the start of this year (I only started running in July 2013), I didn’t know whether or not this was achievable. However, I’m pleased to say that I managed my goal (580km) on 12th October, a full six weeks ahead of my deadline. And here are my new shoes to celebrate (no doubt there will be more excuses for a party when we travel to New York!):
Slightly late, but here is the neighbours’ door for Halloween. I’m starting to think they’re not really trying any more, considering the astonishing amount of crazy Halloween decorations you can buy in this country. So, to give more of a flavour of how it’s done over here, these are the pumpkins that the hubby and I carved this year:
I’ve been training slowly and steadily over the summer months, with the emphasis more on the “slowly” as the weather has been incredibly humid and hot, which means it’s felt like I’ve been wading through treacle. In turn, this has meant my runs have been comparatively slow over the past couple of months and I really started to wonder whether I was losing my ability to run as my finish times have got longer. However, the humidity suddenly lifted a couple of weeks ago, and whaddya know, so did my times! In reality, I’ve had to work harder to maintain my usual pace during the summer weather, which means I’ve got fitter without realising or appreciating it.
So today I took part in the local SPCA’s 5K for the Animals, along the boardwalk at the oceanfront. Whilst gloriously sunny, the temperature took a dip overnight, down to about 18c (which I realise sounds tropical to my British-based buddies, but when you’ve not felt anything below 25c for many months, it’s a bit of a shock, let me tell you). Being a race for an animal charity, dogs were permitted to join in, which made the starting line a little eventful with a handful of particularly overexcited canines. Once I passed them, the boardwalk opened out and I enjoyed a mainly calm and peaceful run in the sunshine with an uninterrupted view of the Atlantic to my side. At the very end of the race, a lorry appeared out of nowhere and entered the pedestrianised boardwalk, meaning we had to slow down, jog behind it, and then take an unplanned detour to reach the finish line. Taking this into account, I’m very pleased to say that I still managed a 5K personal best of 27:50, so my months of training (plodding) in sticky weather definitely paid off! I finished 4th of the females in my age group, 10th female overall, and 30th finisher overall out of 274. I think the promise of a pumpkin spice latte and a cuddle with an 8 week old kitten at the finish line spurred me on a little too….
No time to hang up my running shoes though. Next weekend I’m running my first 10K race. Last week I managed to smash my personal best time for 10K, finally getting it under an hour at 59:18. As I’ll be running in costume with a lot of other crazy people, I don’t necessarily expect to beat this, however I will be wearing a cape so who knows …
Well, we waited aaaaaaages for a new door decoration and this was, quite frankly, underwhelming. I’m going to assume it’s a kind of “holding” decoration, to bridge the long gap between Independence Day and Halloween. I’m expecting great things for the next one!!
And so to the final stop on our West Coast tour, and the end of the annoying daily posts about how great my life is right now. This holiday has been two years in the planning (and paying for) and it has certainly exceeded all expectations.
Vegas is amazing, in all possible ways. It’s not my favorite place but it does have charms all of its very own and I think I’ve developed a soft spot for it. I’m pleased we chose to stay at the Vdara, which is one of the few hotels that is casino-free, which means it’s a lovely quiet relief to return here at the end of the day and not have to wade through acres of gamblers on our way to bed. We have a room on the 48th floor which overlooks a lot of the strip including the Bellagio Fountains but we’re high enough up to not be able to hear anything that’s going on down there. The view is amazing, day or night, and you can see to the mountains in the far distance. We have been waving to the helicopters flying past our windows. I was also far too excited about the electric blinds and I can’t stop myself moving them up or down at any given opportunity. Best thing about this room though, in my opinion, is the bathtub. I haven’t mentioned it in a while, as after two years I am sadly resigned to the fact that Americans just don’t do proper baths. Usually an American bath is no more than about six inches deep and really, what good is that to anyone? For our stay in Vegas, however, we have a proper bath-sized bath that I can have a good old soak in. I have had to build bathing time into my daily schedule and even bought some celebratory bath bombs from Lush for the purpose.
When I have been able to drag myself away from the bath, however, I have been out and about, enjoying the craziness this city has to offer. You can walk huge lengths of the Strip without your feet ever touching the ground outside. This is because a lot of the hotels are interconnected (and when I say “hotels” I mean miniature cities in their own right) and when you do have to leave a hotel complex you can generally reach the next one by taking a covered escalator, a tram or a gondola to the next one. Considering that it’s over 40c out there at the moment, this is actually not such a crazy idea. The thing does that irritate and amaze me in equal measures is that it’s virtually impossible to leave one’s own hotel directly by a front door. This morning it took me fifteen minutes to get from my room to the pavement on the actual street outside. I only had to walk through one casino to get there though, which is some achievement.
Our main entertainment here has been simply walking through the hotels and witnessing the madness contained therein. We have seen dancing fountains, an exploding volcano, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, Egyptian Pyramids, and lots of other things that we no longer even bat an eyelid at. Many of the hotels contain shopping malls which are bigger than our actual local shopping mall. Several times we have had to stop and ask each other which hotel we’re standing in because we’ve been wandering around for so long that we’ve forgotten.
One morning we found ourselves transported by the magic of Vegas to the canals of Venice where we were serenaded by a gondolier. Despite being inside a shopping mall at the time, we gazed up at the clouds in the blue sky and waved to the people who stood on the bridges above us.
We couldn’t do Vegas without seeing some over-the-top spectacular shows, and again these did not disappoint. There is such a huge choice of entertainment that you could see a different show every night for a month or more, if you could afford it. We saw Criss Angel: Believe, which I think has everything you could want from a Vegas show: lots of lights and loud music and sparkle, spectacular illusions and an audience gasping in wonder at the whole thing. My favourite part was when he disappeared from the middle of the stage and reappeared seconds later in a seat in the middle of the audience. I would love to have been sitting in the seat behind him to see exactly how he got there.
Our other choice of show embodied the fun and silly side of Vegas as we went to see Rock of Ages again. It’s certainly not the most skilled of musicals but it is a fabulous night out. Thanks to the finale, when we got home we found our underwear was completely full of glitter. And that pretty much sums up Vegas.
I have just spent three days staring at a ruddy great hole in the ground, albeit the most spectacular hole I have ever seen. Yes, we’ve been to the Grand Canyon, and it really is amazing. You’ve seen the pictures, of course, and they look unbelievable, but the reality is something else entirely. It really does take your breath away. And no amount of photos will ever really capture that moment when you wander up to the edge and take your very first glimpse.
During our visit we saw some Navajo Indians performing traditional songs and dances. They explained that a lot of these performances are to honour Mother Earth and Father Sky and to acknowledge the power of the natural world. When you see natural landscapes like this, it’s easy to understand where this spirituality comes from. It’s so much harder to be inclined to worship the power of nature when you grow up in a flat, wet, featureless landscape like England. Admittedly we do have our fair share of interesting mountains, coastline and the like, but absolutely nothing on this scale. It just fills you with awe. It is literally AWESOME.
I’m not usually happy to get up at 3.45am, particularly when I’m on holiday, however it was absolutely worth it in order to see the sunrise. Any sunrise is amazing, but to experience it in such a stark landscape is incredible, watching the sky slowly change colour and then seeing the sun just starting to creep over the top of the rocks, sharing the moment with only two or three other people who made the effort to get up and travel all the way out to the canyon. And then all you can stupidly think is, Wow, does this really happen every morning?
We left just as the first daytime visitors were starting to enter the park, and made it back to our hotel in time for breakfast before going back to bed. We went back to the park in the evening to watch the sunset. This isn’t quite so special, I think because it doesn’t take quite so much effort and there are a lot more people to share it with. Sunset is less about the sun itself and more about the amazing red colours on the rocks and how they change as the sun goes down. It’s still ruddy spectacular though.
We also took the opportunity to walk the more remote end of the rim trail. By this I certainly don’t mean we did any of the proper hikes; it’s way too hot and you really need to be properly prepared for all sorts of eventualities. However, it seems to me that 95% of the visitors to the park don’t wander more than 100 feet from the car parks, gift shops or restaurants. By walking a five mile trail around the rim of the Canyon we found ourselves alone for almost all of the time, able to relax and listen just to the natural sounds of the Canyon instead of the loud voices of tourists. It was absolute bliss.
We saw plenty of wildlife, particularly at dawn and dusk, including coyotes, foxes, squirrels, rabbits and a couple of condors. The most impressive by far were the elk. It’s quite something to be on a bus hurtling along in the dark when it screeches to a halt and you hear the collective gasp of your fellow passengers as you see a massive elk that’s casually lumbering across the road in front of you and you’re all waiting to discover whether it’ll be venison steaks all round while you wait for a replacement bus. Thankfully we all made it out in one piece.
So it’s been an amazing weekend, really lovely and relaxing and peaceful. All about to be shattered as we head to the neon-lit, glitter-encrusted nutjob that is Las Vegas.