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Saturday 2nd June

My brother picked me up from home at 6:45 and we got to Manchester airport in very good time,  just as well, there was one huge queue for all Thomas Cook transatlantic flights. There were more delays going through security.
This left me with just 30 mins to wait before boarding. Once we did start to board I was pulled over for a random swab test apparently looking for traces of explosives!
When I finally got on-board we waited, and waited, and waited.
Apparently, there was a delay in getting the bags on board, presumably extra security checks were being carried out on those too.
An hour later than scheduled we were on our way.           .
The aircraft, a leased Air Tanker A330, G-VYGK, was comfy enough.  A bottle of water had been placed on every seat. Each seat back had a screen with USB port showing a few films,  tv shows and the obligatory moving map.  You can pay extra to make more shows available. At least the in-ear headphones were free.

Thomas Cook flight to New YorkThe in flight meal was by James Martin.  Jasmine rice, chicken curry and soya beans (?) and was really rather pleasant. Desert was chocolate mouse desert, coffee followed.
The only free drinks are the bottle of water, the water with meal and the after-dinner coffee, all other drinks have to be paid for, needless to say, they weren’t cheap, the real reason for banning liquids at security checks??!!
A lemon drizzle cake was handed out before landing. All in all, a decent flight and although we arrived late we did make up some time.

Immigration was painless and friendly, I was soon out of the airport and on the Sky Train to Jamaica….well the stop before Jamaica, the train became out of service everyone then had to cram on to the next one.
At Jamaica things became confusing. You pay $5 for a ticket to allow you to exit the station, this is separate from the metro card used to travel the subway. Cue lots of confused tourists milling around the small number of ticket machines. To make things worse the ticket machine  wouldn’t accept either  of my cards. Using the ‘pay with ATM card’ option failed and it  prompted for a zip code when I selected credit card.
Given that I’d just landed, I only had notes, the smallest being a $20,  the machines didn’t give change.
A member of staff was pointing customers to the nearest cash machine/ATM which was out on the street. I watched as weary travellers carried their cases up the stairs to get  some cash.
Along with many others, I went to the one manned ticket counter.
Further faff  once I got my ticket and swiped it through the barrier, it was too small for my rucksack. Clearly not designed for people coming straight from the airport.  People with bigger luggage than mine struggled to make their way through.
The subway is at the far end of Jamaica, down the lift. The route wasn’t very clear and there are very few maps around. One plus is the stations have free WiFi so a quick look on Google maps resulted in a plan. Take orange line F as far as Lexington then change onto green 5 to 3 av 149 st.
Almost 2 hours after boarding the Skytrain I was walking down to the hotel in 28 degree heat.
I can see why people take the taxis!

The Opera House hotel was easy to spot on a street full of food stands and market shops.
Check in was simple and friendly.
Room of the Opera House Hotel, Bronx, New YorkMy room, 406, was extremely spacious and clean The aircon did a good job at cooling the room, however, it sounded like a jet engine. That was getting turned off at night!
The walls are full of old posters and building plans from the hotel’s previous life as an opera house. Entertainment these days was provided by an ipod dock and a flat screen tv connected to a cable box.
Once I’d unpacked and freshened up, I wasn’t going to venture far for food so wandered down to the Yankee stadium. There was a game on tonight but I was surprised to find it was a football, or should I say soccer, match.  The area was full or people in New York City kits.  Their kit looked a lot like the Manchester City kit, light blue with the same sponsor. After a quick look on Wiki, I discovered they’re both owned by the ‘City Football Club’ company.
Luckily for me, the bars emptied out just before kick off and I got in to the Bronx Drafthouse where I got some nice chipotle wings. Very ready for bed afterwards!
Speaking of the bed, it was not only comfortable but huge! I could have had two others in there with me!
Despite being in the middle of the Bronx it was very quiet. No noise from outside or the hotel corridors. A very good sleep.


Sunday 3rd June

I wandered downstairs to the breakfast room.  Coffee came from a machine. It wasn’t too bad. Next to the coffee machine was a machine for skimmed milk, full fat milk and ‘half and half’ which I later discovered was single cream.
There wasn’t a huge choice. Cakes, bread, bagels, eggs, Cherios and cornflakes. I grabbed a plastic cup of coffee, plastic cup of orange juice and a plastic bowl full of cornflakes which I ate with a plastic spoon.
Seeing how long it took to toast bread in a country that ran on 110v I quickly concluded life was to short for toast at breakfast.

After breakfast it was time to immerse myself into New York city. I turned left from the hotel entrance and wandered down the road in the Bronx. This was clearly a poor area filled with homeless people and others who clearly needed help. The smell of marujana is strong and large sums of money was being handed over to people on street corners, I can only assume for drugs.  Despite this, the area felt ‘quirky’ but not threatening.
I headed in a straight line, down 3rd Avenue to cross the water in to Harlem. It was amazing the difference between here and the Bronx. Wide roads with places of worship on virtually every street corner.
Once I reached Malcolm X Boulevard, I followed it to Central Park.
The park was high on my to do list, partly due to it’s links with my local park, Birkenhead Park,  the world’s first publicly funded park and the inspiration behind Central Park.
There is one obvious difference between the two, Central Park is massive! About 2.5 miles/4km from top to bottom.
 Reservoir in Central Park New YorkI zig zagged around, visiting the North Woods, the Great Hill and The Pool.
I stayed on the western side of the park and reached the running track around the reservoir. It’s strange seeing the high-rise buildings towering over this oasis of green and blue. Even more strange was seeing turtles swimming around. Definitely something we don’t see here in Birkenhead!
Once I’d reached the imaginatively named ‘The Lake’ I stopped for a coffee at The Loeb Boathouse. I sat myself down outside at spotted my first (and only!) famous person of the holiday, John Noble who has appeared in a number of shows including Fringe and Elementary.
I weaved around the park some more, eventually popping out at the south end on 6th Avenue. Yet again, the area I was now in was totally different to the places I was in earlier in the day. There was some money here. Big, posh hotels such as the Ritz Carlton and shops that included Louis Vuitton.
Empire State building, road New York CityMy route continued South towards Times Square and Broadway, the sights were certainly getting done today!

I continued south until I hit West 22nd Street, a left here took me towards the Flatiron building. 5th Ave then took me to the park at Washington Square. Today it was full of kids taking part in various science experiments.
Next up was the pleasant Greenwich village and a brief wander in to lower Manhattan before heading back up North, through Union Square Garden, passing the Empire State building, ending at the Subway station to head back.

A gpx file of this walk is available on ViewRanger

New York, the city that never sleeps….unless it’s a Sunday evening and you want to eat. Many restaurants closed at 8 or 9pm. I ended up having dinner at Dallas BBQ. Ok.  Decent prices, huge portions, but not the greatest taste.
After food it was back to the hotel’s  mezzanine floor for a water (with ice and lemon) and decaff  coffee before bed.

.Part 2 – Getting out in to the countryside

Yorkshire’s Best Black Pudding

Elvington Everyman Racing Aston MartinNot long back from a quick trip to Yorkshire.
The main reason for going was to participate in a Super car Driving Experience at Everyman Racing in Elvington.

Despite the fog, it was a fantastic morning!
Got the chance to drive an Aston Martin, Ferrari and, my favourite, a Lamborghini.

Victor aircraft Yorkshire air museumThe track is next to the Yorkshire Aviation Museum so it would be rude not to pop in.
To be honest, I thought the £8  entry free was a bit steep but we spent a few hours looking around the exhibits which include a Halifax, Spitfire and Tornado.
Some of these aircraft can be seen from the track, rather distracting (-:

My first night was spent at the lovely Fifth Milestone Cottage a few miles outside York, not far from the Park & Ride and a short drive to the Elvington track.
Dinner was taken at the Windmill pub, a few minutes walk down the road. A pork and apple burger topped with black pudding & pepper sauce proved to be a tasty choice!

The next night was spent at the Woolly Sheep Inn, Skipton.
This pub with rooms is situated right in the heart of Skipton.  Breakfast was taken here along with an evening meal. Black pudding was on the menu again, this time with braised belly pork and bbq pork fillet. Very nice!

So, after two consecutive meals containing black pudding and wondering what to do with the last day of the short break, I concluded it might be an idea to track down the best black pudding in Yorkshire.
I didn’t have far to go.
One of the two branches of Keelham farmshop is located just a mile or so outside of Skipton and is home to the black pudding voted ‘Best in Yorkshire‘ in 2013  Their black pudding with haggis is also very good and worth a try.

Keelham Farmshop is definitely worth a look if you’re around Thornton or Skipton. They have a very good range of products ranging from locally produced fruit, veg and meat to beers and wines all at a reasonable price

Yorkshire Black Pudding Keelham farm shopI found the black pudding a bit denser  with more body than it’s counterpart from the other side of the Pennines. I think this may be down to more oats and/or barley in the mix.

Many would argue that the best black pud comes from Bury in Lancashire or Stornoway but the Yorkshire stuff is still extremely good!

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