A Travellerspoint blog

October 2009

Ways in which TV has lied to me

What didn’t happen to us in New York

Actually, before I start ranting on about what didn’t happen to me in New York, I’ll tell you something that did.

During our first night in our Staten Island hotel, at about 3.30 in the morning, the fire alarm went off. We tried unsuccessfully to ignore it (heads under pillows and that sort of thing), but eventually realised that it was going on way too long to be a drill. We dragged on our jeans and headed out into the hall, which was filled with smoke. As we couldn't use the elevators during a fire we walked down five flights of stairs to reception. (Actually I didn’t so much walk as shuffle. At three in the morning, I look like this.) Anyhoo, we got downstairs and asked the receptionist guy what was going on. He was totally and completely indifferent to the whole affair.

“It’s probably just somebody smoking a cigarette that set off the alarm,” he said.

“Um, no,” we reply, appalled by his apathy. “Our floor is filled with smoke.”

Mr. Blasé finally gets the message and calls the fire brigade.

This makes me wonder: First we get stuck in a lift in Seville, and now this. Is Karma finally catching up with me? I don’t remember my previous lives, but I bet I did something really, really bad in at least one of them... possibly in all of them. I’m sure I’ve got some serious retribution coming my way!

As I was hanging around the lobby wondering when, exactly, the Universe was gonna kick me in the butt, the fire brigade arrived. A quick investigation turned up a faulty electrical socket in a closet near our room. Mr. Blasé behind the desk soon loses his nonchalance, ‘cos the Fire Chief proceeds to read him the riot act for violation of some law or another. Each hotel is supposed to have a fire officer on duty 24/7; our hotel had to drag their fire officer out of bed!

And that brings me back to my subject heading: ways in which TV has lied. Anybody who has watched London’s Burning or that awful American series with Denis Leary would probably get the impression that fire fighting is a tremendously exciting job. It isn’t. At least, it wasn’t for the poor blokes who were called to our hotel. They walked in carrying axes and hoses and impressive stuff like that, then mainly stood around looking bored. Eventually the Chief said, “Show’s over,” and they all went back to the station. Seriously, the most exciting part of the night was listening to the desk clerk getting an ear bashing.

Colour me disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I wanted a rerun of The Towering Inferno or anything like that, but it would have been nice if the fellas had got to soak something, or give someone a fireman’s lift.

I know, I know, I watch way too much TV. But this did get me thinking...

Many movies are set in NYC, and a lot of them have thrilling and dangerous plotlines. If TV shows or films were in any way realistic, here’s a list of things I might reasonably expect to experience in New York:

- We could be attacked by supernatural entities (Ghostbusters), or monsters will rampage through the city (Cloverfield)
- We could find ourselves in the middle of a mob shootout (The Sopranos)
- There could be an alien invasion (Independence Day)
- A good cop might chase a bad guy through the subway system (Nighthawks)
- Global warming might finally catch up with us and a new ice age will arrive (The Day After Tomorrow)
- Or, scariest of all, we might be subjected to yuppies who sit around in coffee shops all day and whine (Friends).

But it doesn’t stop there. Granted most of the above scenarios are pretty far-fetched, but Hollywood tells little white lies, too. Here’s a list of more reasonable stuff that also failed to occur:

Myth: Buses will stop when you wave at them, whether you are at a bus stop or not.
Reality: If you try flagging down a bus anywhere except at a bus stop, you will get an extremely filthy look from the driver. If you are really lucky, they won’t try and run you over as they fly past.

Myth: You can take as long as you like saying goodbye to someone at the Greyhound station. The bus will happily wait.
Reality: Greyhound bus drivers are, in our experience, people with dominant personalities and a schedule to keep. Those buses will leave on time, whether or not you happen to be on ‘em.

Myth: NYC taxi drivers honk their horns all the time and rant at you for the duration of your journey.
Reality: Our drivers were very reserved and hardly spoke at all. Also there was very little horn-honking. In our entire time there we only saw one altercation, and that was between a taxi driver and a bloke in a sports car. (They stopped in the middle of the road for a good old slanging match!)

Myth: New Yorkers are neurotic and unfriendly (and this from a Cambridge University study!)
Reality: The people in New York were as polite and friendly as people we have encountered in other parts of America. Before I arrived, I actually believed that walking down the street in NYC was going to be a major chore. I anticipated being crushed in crowds of rushed people and yelled at by irate drivers, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, the streets do get crowded, but nobody was rude or jostled us, and drivers were considerate and patient. Sorry, Cambridge braniacs, but our experiences just don’t correlate to your findings!

Alright, enough silliness. I suppose I really ought to tell you what we did instead of just banging on about the telly. We:

Rode the Staten Island ferry

Due to the extortionate price of hotel rooms on the mainland, we chose to stay on Staten Island. We got to take the ferry a lot, which meant that we got to see the Statue of Liberty a lot, too. Actually, the ferry is a fabulous service. It runs 24 hours a day and is free! Our hotel also provided a complimentary shuttle service to and from the ferry terminal, so although it required one car, one boat and a subway ride to get into central Manhattan, it only took about an hour.

statue_of_liberty.jpg
Lady Liberty - A gift to the United States from France to represent the friendship between the two countries. I guess nothing lasts forever, though, eh? Anti-French sentiment here has meant that in some places 'French Fries' have been renamed 'Freedom Fries'! I say they're both wrong; everybody knows they're called 'chips' :-)

Walked through famous streets

A large part of our time in NYC was spent just walking and enjoying the fact that we were finally there. Must-sees included Times Square (including an obligatory beer at the Hard Rock Café), Rockefeller Plaza and 42nd Street.

Strolled through Central Park

To be honest we didn’t see the entire park ‘cos it was much bigger than we expected it to be. Well, that and the fact that the main reason I wanted to go there in the first place was for a horse and carriage ride.

horse_carriage.jpgernie.jpg
The horse's name was Ernie.

Saw Grand Central Station

And had prohibitively expensive drinks at one of the bars there.

Visited the Guggenheim

They had a Kandinsky exhibition on, which was interesting if a little bizarre, but actually we thought the museum building itself was worth seeing. It’s got a spiral viewing gallery, and a central skylight – one of the more unusual galleries we’ve visited, for sure!

Went to the observation deck of the Empire State Building

Our timing was perfect that day. We had anticipated huge lines of people and ridiculous waiting times, but we went straight in and were on the observation deck in no time at all. The place was obviously set up for hundreds of visitors ‘cos they had those huge thick velvet ropes everywhere to direct the queues, but apparently going during the off-season has its advantages!

empire_view.jpg
The view from the 87th floor of the Empire State Building.

I really wish that we had spent more time in New York as there was so much more to see, but it is very expensive and we didn’t want to give the budget more of a battering than necessary. We both agree that if we get the chance to go there again we will definitely take it – although next time we might just say “Hang the expense” and pay for a room in the city so we can take advantage of the night life without worrying about getting home again.

In conclusion:

Fabulous city, fabulous people (and fab delicatessens, too, though I promised not to talk about food in this entry, didn’t I? Ah well, you’ll just have to take my word for it!)

More soon

From

Julie and Pete

Posted by Julie1972 15:19 Archived in USA Comments (1)

More than just cream cheese

Discovering what’s what in Philadelphia

Shortly before leaving Washington D.C., Pete and I went to a Chinese restaurant where I received this message in my fortune cookie:

fortunecookie2.jpg

I wish it had told me exactly how many steps it was going to take in order to reach our hotel in Philadelphia! The day started off well enough: we had a pleasant 3.5 hour Greyhound bus ride into Philly city centre, and, based on previous experiences, reckoned that the rest of the journey would be equally easy. We’d booked a hotel on the outskirts of the city, so had to catch a train. Ordering the tickets was fun, ‘cos whoever named the place took a bit of a liberty with the spelling. We wanted to go Olney station, so that’s what we asked for, pronouncing it as it’s spelt: oll-knee. “Only what?” said the guy behind the counter. Turns out the place is pronounced oll-a-knee, though where they get that extra middle vowel sound from I have no idea.

So, we get to Oll-a-knee expecting to find a cab to take us (and our bloomin’ heavy backpacks, hereafter known as the BHB’s) directly to our hotel. Next problem: Olney is a tiny station seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There’s not a taxi in sight, so we sigh, shoulder the BHB’s, and head for the nearest main road. “You never know,” we told ourselves, “it might be within walking distance.” Hah. We want 4200 Roosevelt Boulevard; the first building we see on that street is numbered 100. That idea is quickly consigned to the scrapheap, and after a prolonged period of whinging, moaning, and cursing inaccurate maps, we improvise a plan B.

Plan B turns out to be walking to the nearest Dunkin Donuts and falling on the mercy of the bored looking dude behind the counter. Happily he is the helpful type, and he points us in the direction of the nearest bus stop, thus preventing me initiating Plan C: buying up as many donuts as I can afford and eating myself into a self-pitying coma.

The bus arrives shortly afterwards, and we struggle to get ourselves and the BHBs on board. The bus driver informs us that he doesn’t stop near our hotel; we’ll need to walk two blocks at the other end. Two blocks is better than the 40-odd blocks we were previously facing, so we buy the tickets anyway.

The bus is crowded; we are blocking the aisle and the front doorway, Pete, the BHB’s and I. We are also obviously hot, sticky, tired, annoyed and foreign. Then the bus driver does something totally unexpected and entirely welcome. “I’m the bus driver, right?” he asks us with a grin. “I can stop anywhere I want!” And so he did. He pulled up at the side of the road, immediately opposite our hotel, saving us a hot and uncomfortable hike with the BHB's. We will both be eternally grateful for this man's consideration, and reckon some heavy-duty karma is flying his way. Thank you, whoever you are!

Note:

For those of you who are intending to visit Philly yourselves and are looking for accommodation, I do not recommend the Days Inn on Roosevelt Boulevard. Yes, it’s cheaper than other hotels, but the transportation is lousy (requiring one bus and one train to get to the city centre), and it is in a very seedy area. The staff were not as helpful or professional as I had come to expect from American hotels, either. In conclusion: Do yourselves a favour and find somewhere else!

That being said, there was one thing our hotel was convenient for: restaurants. There must have been half a dozen within easy walking distance, which was both good and bad news: good, ‘cos it meant we didn’t have to worry about planning meals way in advance; and bad, ‘cos there were half a dozen restaurants within a couple of minutes walking distance, and I wanted to try ‘em all! To be honest, I’d compiled a list of chains I wanted to try before we’d even started this trip. Sure we get McD’s, BK, KFC, Denny’s and Wendy’s in New Zealand, but there are a whole bunch more I’d never seen: Taco Bell, Olive Garden, Chilli’s, Red Lobster, Applebee’s... the list goes on! Bizarrely, much of my knowledge of American Junk Food Emporiums comes from reading diet blogs. Many moons ago, back in the UK, Pete and I both had some excess weight to shed, and I started reading other people’s stories for inspiration (and consolation). It’s funny how weight loss blogs seem to talk as much about bad food as good.

As you might have gathered, Pete and I love to eat, so the USA is proving a bit of challenge restraint-wise, as it would be so, so easy to go overboard. Food is cheap, plentiful and comes in huge servings, so weight gain was one of the things I was worried about before we arrived (*). I know there are lots of yummy things here that I simply have to try: New York cheesecake, Key Lime pie and chilli dogs, to name but a few. (I also have a hankering for grits, even though I have no idea what they are!) Worst of all, though: biscuits. Not cookie-type biscuits, but the lovely, buttery, savoury version. My obsession with these things is all Pete’s sister’s fault. She had access to a military BX in the UK, so she fed us all sorts of good American things when we went to visit. Unfortunately she neglected to tell me that biscuits are more addictive than crack! And what do I see when we first land? A sign outside Dunkin Donuts advertising sausage & biscuits for 99 cents. I might as well throw my old jeans away now, eh?

(*) I should actually be worrying about my cholesterol levels, I suppose, but cholesterol doesn’t make my bum look big – not directly, at any rate – so I am actually more concerned about whether my clothes still fit than what my LDL’s are doing. Priorities, eh?

So, along the way, we’ve developed a few survival tactics to ensure the damage is kept to a minimum:

1 – We sort out our own breakfast instead of relying on the pastry-laden buffets that hotels usually provide. Fruit, juice, yogurt and cereal bars are our staples, and mean that we get at least a couple of our 5-a-day fruit and veggie servings first thing!

2 – If restaurants are inevitable, we look for the healthy options on menus whenever possible. Most Palaces of Cholesterol-Laden Delights have a few non-fried items, we’ve found.

3 – If the hotel has a microwave, we raid the supermarket freezer section and ‘cook’ for ourselves. True, frozen meals aren’t great, but at least they have nutritional information on the packaging, so you can try to make better choices. If we don’t have a microwave we hit the deli counter and salad bar. (We eat at restaurants so often now that supermarket meals actually feel like a treat!)

It seems to be working for us so far, though it might be a while before I’ll have the nerve to get my cholesterol levels tested once we get back to New Zealand!

Have I really just blethered on about junk food for the last ten paragraphs? And you’re still reading? Wow, I’m impressed!

And, just so we’re clear, Pete and I didn’t actually spend our entire time in Philadelphia eating; we did find stuff to do as well. Actually, we received an email from Pete’s sister (the one who started my biscuit addiction) not long after we arrived. She asked:

“Is there any reason in particular that you went to Philly??? Just wondering, Mum and I were discussing it the other day and were trying to figure out what was there.”

It’s a fair enough question, as Philly isn‘t exactly a major tourist destination. To be honest, I chose it for two reasons:

1) It was a reasonable stopping point halfway between Washington D.C. and New York.
2) The Mütter Museum is there.

For those of you who have never heard of it, the Mütter Museum houses a weird and wonderful collection of medical curiosities, anatomical specimens (both real and wax models), and antique medical equipment - some of which looks like it belongs in a torture chamber! I saw it advertised on a website of strange places to visit when I was doing research for this trip, and I was thrilled that we actually got to go there.

I must say though, this place ain’t for the squeamish (this from the girl who watches the surgical scenes on Grey’s Anatomy from behind a cushion!) as some of the exhibits can be a bit hard to stomach. For example:

- The Eye Wall of Shame is a collection of wax models showing horrible maladies and injuries, including a toothpick sticking out of a retina!

- Many severed body parts sitting in jars of formaldehyde, including a collection of spectacularly nasty tumours.

- A skull of a woman with a horn growing out of her head.

- The brain of a serial killer.

- And, most disturbing of all, the corpse of a woman known as the Soap Lady, whose body tissue turned into a soap-like substance due to the properties of the soil she was buried in. (We were particularly concerned by the fact that her mouth is open. Did she die screaming?)

Most of you will be pleased to hear that I couldn’t take photos, but the gore-lovers amongst you may be interested in viewing these pictures from someone who managed to get a peek behind the scenes. WARNING: SOME OF THE IMAGES ON THIS WEBSITE ARE VERY DISTURBING! If you want something that’s easier on the eye, go here instead.

Yes, the museum was gruesome and creepy, but it was also different. If you’re interested in medical history or want to scare yourself silly with the thought of the hundreds of ways in which the human body can go wrong, this is the place to be.

Another unusual item we found in Philly was the Liberty Bell, a famous symbol of the American Revolutionary War. It was made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pennsylvania’s original Constitution, and later became an icon of the anti-slave movement.

liberty-bell.jpg
Ding dong! Notice the huge crack? Read on to find out the story behind it.

The bell was made in Britain, at the Whitechapel Foundry in 1752, on the orders of Isaac Norris, Assembly Speaker and the Chairman of the State House Superintendents. His instructions read:

"Let the Bell be cast by the best Workmen and examined carefully before it is shipped with the following words well shaped in large letters round the vizt, 'By order of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania for the State House in the city of Philada. 1752' - and underneath - 'Proclaim Liberty thro' all the Land to all the inhabitants thereof, Levit. XXV/10.'"

The bell arrived, and on September 1st 1752, Norris sent a letter confirming that:

"The Bell is come ashore & in good order."

So far, so good. However, his next letter to his agent read:

“I gave Information that our Bell was generally like & appvd of but in a few days after my writing I had the Mortification to hear that it was cracked by a stroke of the clapper without any other violence as it was hung up to try the sound.”

The blooming thing cracked on the very first stroke! So much for best Workmen, eh? What an embarrassment:

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*face palm* When only ASCII art will do.

So, that’s quite enough from me for today. Hopefully my next post will be a little more... I was going to say ‘normal’, but I dunno if I can manage that. Okay, I solemnly swear that my next post will be less gore- and food-filled. That’s one promise I can stick to!

Bye.

Posted by Julie1972 07:39 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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