Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Friday, May 31, 2019

USA : Day 9 : Martha's Vineyard...

Martha's Vineyard, or simply The Vineyard to  the locals, is a 96 square mile island just south of Cape Cod. 

The Vineyard is primarily known as a summer colony, and it is accessible only by boat and air. However, its year-round population has considerably increased since the 1960s. About 16,000 now live here permanently, but that rises to about 160,000 in the summer. 

The Vineyard is a massive tourist destination with its beautiful beaches, warm summers, and delightful houses. However not many of those beaches are accessible to the general public. Much of the island is privately owned. 

Originally many ex-whaling captains and Boston merchant sailors made their homes here - buying up huge tracts of land - but more recently many celebrities have followed suit; Gloria Swanson, the Kennedy clan, Lady Gaga, Meg Ryan, James Taylor, the Clintons, the Obamas, Spike Lee, Bill Murray to name but a few. 

Luckily there are tough planning laws these days so these private land-owners can't exploit their land in just any way they want. No casinos - yet!

In fact its relatively small year-round population has led to a very activist citizenry who are highly involved in the island's day-to-day activities. Tourism, over-development, politics, and environmentalism are of keen interest to the community. Keeping the balance between the much needed tourist economy and the ecology and wildlife of the island is of paramount importance to residents. 

To explore The Vineyard a bit further we three took a grand tour around the island. Our guide filled us in with lots of tit-bits about the six towns on the island, their people, and their community. 

And here is a list  of some of those tit-bits in no particular order:

Oak Bluffs is the only town with any green spaces - it has a park. 
Edgartown is the most beautiful of the six towns. 
The winter storms of 2015 amidst decimated the island. 
Gloria Swanson's affair with Joe Kennedy was largely carried out on the island. 
The lobsters here are the best in the world (!)
There are many beautiful lighthouses on the island including one called Gay Head. 
John Kennedy fatally crashed his plane in the sea of The Vineyard. 
Jackie Onassis's house and land is huge, hidden in the trees, and impenetrable to the paparazzi!
There is a large deaf community on the island. 
The many rich residents are very generous to other local residents. They're need to be. The average house price here to twice the US average. 
Jaws was filmed here. 
The Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs is the oldest operating platform carousel in the USA. 
Tipping your driver is customary (!)

After our tour we sat on the dock at Oak Bluffs nursing a beer and thinking over what we'd heard. A lovely island,  a great place to have a summer home, but boy is it expensive!

In the evening we visited the local brewery house to sample the local ale and have a bite to eat. Tomorrow we leave, heading back to the mainland and round the Cape to Provincetown. 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

USA : Day 8 : Boston's Diner, Peter Pan's Bus, Woods Hole's Ferry, and Martha's Vineyard...

We started the day with an early morning walk around Boston city centre. It's not much of a city centre to be honest; mainly banks, office blocks, and bars claiming to be the original "Cheers". But there were some nice old colonial buildings too. Buried away. 

Naturally we had to visit the harbour too to dangle in an American tea bag. Our own little bit of revenge for the Boston Tea Party. Served rather too late and rather too cold, admittedly. 

We also stopped for breakfast at that classic Bostonian institution - the South Station Diner. It was just perfect with its booths, plastic covered bar stools, oversized breakfasts, bottomless coffee, and cheesy-grinning, charming waitresses.

Stuffed, we returned to the hotel to collect our luggage and took a cab back to the bus terminal to pick up a Peter Pan bus (i.e. coach) to take us to the ferry port along Cape Cod. A port going by the name of Woods Hole. The journey took about 90 minutes and we enjoyed the view out of the window - green countryside, bridges, lakes, and the odd town. 

The wait at the ferry terminal was fairly short - not least because the waitress in the local hostelry seemed to be hell-bent on not serving us our early afternoon sharpener. She eventually relented though. Under pressure of our best Paddington bear stares. 

Refreshed, we were soon aboard and cruising the 45 minutes out across the water towards the beautiful island of Martha's Vineyard. 

Luckily our hotel was near the Oak Bluffs dock - a magnificent old building recently converted called Summercamp. 

We settled in, and then explored the locale a bit. The place has lots of gingerbread cottages which were charming. Built out of wood in the mid- to late-1800s most seemed deserted - weekend holiday homes for the rich out-of-towners not yet opened for the summer season, perhaps?

We also found a place to have some supper - a humble publike venue called - ironically, I'm sure - The Ritz. The waitress, all fading blonde hair, skin-light jeans and low cut white blouse, was typically overfriendly and over-shared her life story. The food was great though so we stayed for an extra beer. 

We then tottered back to our Summercamp hotel to turn in early for the night. Was it the sea air, or was it the strong local beer? Not sure. Maybe both. But we all felt rather tired, and we had a big day planned tomorrow. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

USA : Day 7 : Singing Waiters, Busy Train Stations, and Rainy Boston...

We started our final day in NYC with a trip to the famous singing waitstaff venue - Ellen's Stardust Diner. We'd tried to get in to Stardust on the previous few days but each time found the queue too long. Today, we persevered. 

Now I don't about you, but some people might find waiters and waitresses singing at them while they eat their breakfast annoying. I didn't think I was one of those people. But it turns out I am. 

I know a lot of people love it, and maybe it was because I was a little tired and hungover at just shy of 8am, but karaoke versions of George Michael's Faith, Adele's Rumour Has It, and Peggy Lee's Crazy have no place at the breakfast table. Especially when the people singing those songs is actually stood *on* your breakfast table. And throwing confetti in your coffee. 

Ok, for while, it had that novelty factor I guess but we wolfed down our overpriced cold bacon, luke warm eggs, and wretched coffee - and left. We'd ticked a big Broadway musical box but we won't be back. 

After a bit more packing we then checked out of our hotel and took a big yellow one down to Penn Station. There we prepared ourselves for the platform announcement that would signal the mad dash to board our train. Oh, the joy of the Amtrak boarding experience. Part train-ride, part rugby scrum. 

Once seated, the train to Boston was comfortable enough though albeit it a four and half hour experience. We had to hoist our suitcases up into the luggage tracks above our heads too which was fun!

Unfortunately it was raining when we arrived on Boston so after checking into our hotel - the rather lovely Bostonian - we cancelled our dinner plans across town to eat at the in-house restaurant. Nice enough food, happily now served as European-sized portions. I've had to loosen the buckle on my belt this last week. New York portions have a lot to answer for!

Then an early night and watched a film on telly. We had a big day tomorrow. We were setting sail to an island tomorrow - Martha's Vineyard. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

USA : Day 6 : Staten Island Ferry, Battery Park, Washington Square, 5th Avenue, and Tootsie!...

Today was a day of complete contrasts. From magnificent skylines to equally magnificent eyeliners. 

Firstly we aimed to see a skyline - no, *the* skyline. The skyline of all skylines. The Manhattan skyline - from the water. A sight beyond compare. 

To do so, we took the Staten Island Ferry out into the Hudson River and then straight back again. The ferry is free, great fun, and affords the most amazing views of downtown Manhattan. It's also the cheapest way to see the Statue of Liberty up close too! Having secured our classic skyline photos we disembarked. 

We then headed for a coffee in Battery Park. Battery Park is right by the ferry terminal and is so much nicer than I first remember visiting it. It is now clean, has loads of park benches, and is full of flowers. It was nothing like that when I visited it back in the late 1980s. Back then it was dirty, dangerous, and you'd be lucky to come out of it alive! 

The three of us then decided to walk up through the city to do a bit more exploring on foot - a theme of this trip, walking. 

Naturally we had to pop into Century 21 first though for a bit of retail therapy. Designer nic-nacs at knock down prices? We were well in there. 

A few dozen blocks later, we stopped for some lunch, a few beers, and to people watch. It was Memorial Day weekend this weekend so lots of locals had fled the city and the place was full of out-of-towners to gorpe at. 

We then continued north on to Washington Square. That was also packed - but not with just tourists. Washington Square is surrounded by New York University so it's the place where the loads of students all hang out. And all hanging out it blooming well was! I'd not seen that much flesh on show since I was last pushing my trolley past Sainsburys meat counter. Muscles, cleavage, thighs up to here, ripped shirts, torn shorts....the sunshine coupled with the odd beer seemed to have loosened everyone inhibitions. And buttons. 

Moving swiftly on, we continued our walk on into 5th Avenue past all the posh shops up past Union Square to Madison Square Park. 

There we jumped on a subway train up to 49th for a bit of downtime back at the hotel. 

A disco nap later we were set for our final cheese and wine of our New York adventure in the lounge before heading out to the theatre to see new musical Tootsie. 

Tootsie was amazing - camp as anything, funny, moving, and really deserving a transfer to the West End. (See full review posted separately)

Post-show we had a night cap - gin martinis in a bar on the way home. 

It was another fun day in NYC. And our last for the time being. Tomorrow we head up the coast north to Cape Cod. 

See ya, Big Apple. It's been a blast!


Last night Stuart, Joanna and I went to see new musical Tootsie at the Marquis Theatre on New York's glitzy Broadway. 

Jees and crow it was brilliant! As good as La Cage, as funny at Mormon, it is a solid gold classic. We loved it. A riot from start to finish. 

A musical for the #meetoo vegetation (joke intended) it plays with gender politics, comes down on the right side, and then stamps all over every romantic musical cliche - it's a winner. 

I only hope it transfers to the West End so we can see it again. 

If it does. Go see. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

USA : Day 5 : Brooklyn, Bridges...

Today we decided to go for a walk. A very, very long walk. New York is a great place for pedestrians - wide pavements (sorry, sidewalks), lots of one way traffic so you know where to look to avoid those big yellow taxis, loads of green spaces, dozens of  elevated walkways, and amazing vistas at every corner. 

The city has also heavily invested in itself. And by that I mean many of the once dodgy pubic spaces have now been transformed. Whole areas have been cleaned up, regenerated, and improved for civic living. Nicer, the place is nicer, is basically what I'm trying to say. Nicer and safe. 

The first part of our epic walk was to one of those regenerated places - Williamsburg in the borough of Brooklyn. Williamsburg like many places near the East River had a great industrial past. The towering brick factory fronts that once lined the riverfront used to proudly display their mighty pasts with huge letters visible across the river in Manhattan; signs like VINEGAR HILL SUGAR or FLUSHING FRUIT CANNING. Now these cathedrals of commerce are nothing but towering brown and orange rusty shells. 

But in front of this aging row of orange elders something young, green and youthful has recently emerged. A beautiful city park. Domino Park. The area down to the waterfront has been utterly transformed. Now there is green space, flowers, paths, beaches, art, skateboarding, fountains, bikes, walkers, joggers, families, ice creams, and laughter. Oh and the views. The views of the city are amazing.

We stopped off to soak up all this atmosphere, marvel at the accomplishment of the place, and share a bite to eat (yes, we had finally worked out that the portion sizes here are for sharing.)

Next on our travels was further down river past Manhatten Bridge to the area known as DUMBO. DUMBO is short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. 

Trendy DUMBO's cobblestone streets and converted Brooklyn warehouse buildings are the backdrop for independent boutiques, high-end restaurants and trendy cafes. Near the waterfront, St. Ann's Warehouse, in a former tobacco factory, is the heart of a thriving performance and gallery scene.

Think Shoreditch by the sea. With everything that entails; hipsters, tipsters, and tourists. A magnet for Sunday afternoon strollers. The place was packed. Great views of Brooklyn Bridge and the skyscapers across the river but boy was it busy. 

We decided to move off, to continue our journey on - and start going up. 

Opening in 1883 the Brooklyn Bridge is as distinctive as it is iconic. It is a New York City landmark, ranking among the city's most popular tourist attractions.

The hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, spanning the East River. 

Over the years, the Brooklyn Bridge has undergone several reconfigurations; it formerly carried horse-drawn vehicles and elevated railway lines, but now carries vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic. Commercial vehicles are banned from the bridge.  

As we started our climb across it we soon realised just how popular it was. The place was heaving. But everyone was in high spirits - taking pictures of the beautiful bridge, each other, and the commanding views of Manhattan. We could even see the Statue of Liberty in the distance. 

Once across we decided we'd done enough walking for one day and headed first downtown (my bad, got on wrong train) and then uptown back to our hotel. 

We had dinner reservations at Virgil's famous BBQ restaurant in Times Square and didn't want to be late. 

The food was epic and shared(!), our feet tired, so we were soon heading back for a night cap in our hotel. 

A tiring but lovely day. 

The Big Apple had showed us her best - and her busiest!