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I’m walking in sunshine

“I’m walking in sunshine”.

It was quite a shock to step out of the hotel this morning into a thick blanket of fog but, by the time we had breakfast and repacked the car, the sun had taken over and the heat was beginning to climb. In fact, a beautiful sight awaited us as we left Chattanooga and we looked at the surrounding mountains. The mist was clinging to the valley but the mountain tops were clear. A truck passed us loaded up with rocking chairs and we have seen hundreds of them in these parts, in cafes and bars, on porches and in hotels. Just plain wooden rocking chairs, devoid of any trimmings and, it would appear, devoid of any comfort, too.

We had a quite spooky experience with the mist en route. As we started a fairly steep descent into a valley, banks of thick mist appeared to climb towards us and we were quickly surrounded, albeit briefly. They make movies about that sort of situation!!

It was a relatively short journey to Cookeville, which is not that far from Nashville, our destination tomorrow. That is a story in itself because we had cancelled 3 hotel nights to accommodate our re-route provoked by Irma. Having pre-booked all our hotels through Booking.com, I thought it would be so easy to add an extra night to our stay in Nashville. It would appear that I had got some fabulous deals through booking early and the hotels with vacancies tonight were either hundreds of dollars or described as “just passable”. The hotel I booked from tomorrow was full. So, Cookeville it was and we arrived in time for me to find a Starbucks (great wifi) to FaceTime my youngest grandson, Oliver, on his second birthday.

We then set off to explore the area and feeling in need of a walk (about 30 degrees of hot sun with high humidity) we happened across Cummins Falls State Park. This offered a walk through fairly dense trees to some beautiful waterfalls. You could choose to take the upper paths and overlook the falls or climb over rocks and boulders to go swimming. Tempting, but looking was good enough.

With music much on our minds we set about discovering where we might enjoy a live performance this evening. Spankies, near the University…..perhaps not? Most of the others we have checked are offering non-stop juke boxes, so maybe we save ourselves for Nashville, where we are booked for a concert tomorrow.

As Carolyn posted on Facebook, we went for a very late lunch to sample the American true version of KFC. No fries but creamy mashed potato with gravy, and a ‘biscuit’ with butter or honey. So much nicer. People may say, “You didn’t really go to KFC?!” But we did and I loved it!

Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌

My new hip had a good workout today! Kath underplayed the walk to the falls. Over rough terrain and for a good distance both uphill and down dale.

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Punctuated by brief “Hi”s to other explorers and a lengthy conversation on the way back with a group from South Carolina. Needless to say, the topics ranged from Beatles’ music in the 60s through to the inevitable, for me, it seems, politics. On a musical front, I upset the Vietnam Vet (he wore the cap and told me his background) by not worshipping Elvis as a teenager and barely got away with my pacifism and disquiet about The Donald! Actually, it was very interesting to hear about the political situation and how Trump’s votes were often merely anti-Hillary. We also discussed the Charlottesville protests and responses. Despite husband and wife voting different ways in the Presidential election, they were united in their view that Obama was a divisive figure who, they felt (strongly) had encouraged ‘Liberals’ to want something for nothing. Was it racial? I fear it was and this was confirmed by our hotel elevator-sharing guy at the hotel who confirmed the same, as well as suggesting to Kath that he suspected, “You w*nkers are going out to get p*ssed”. Apparently, he has a Welsh friend who uses this phrase repeatedly! His views on the last eight years in the U.S. were also that blacks had become emboldened. Racial segregation is still an issue for the ‘South’ and the Civil Rights struggles are far from over. When discussing ‘Dreamers’ and the Mexicans, we agreed that all U.S. citizens, except Native Americans, were immigrants in some form. We parted amicably with the obligatory, “Have a good day!”

(On a lighter note, why do we feel that by replacing the odd letter by an asterisk in words like w*nkers somehow renders it more acceptable?!)

Anyway,… another quirk is when, on our Road Trips, we come across familiar names in unfamiliar places… Birmingham, Salisbury, … and today, Sparta! We’ve even found a town called Kathleen in Georgia (and another in Florida)!

And, for a chuckle, how about…

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So to music… Spankies didn’t have live music until 10 and others, including Crawdaddy’s West Side Grill, Father Tom’s Pub and Hooligan’s Half Irish Pub didn’t have live music – I rang them to ask! My last hope was where I fancied going because of one of my musical favourites from the 60s: Wooly Bully’s. Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs had a huge American hit in 1965 and, although only getting to No.11 in the U.K., was, and is, a favourite of mine partly because of the repetitive and offbeat lyric with thumping beat. I didn’t know until today that it was written about his friend’s cat!

As we discovered, we’ve changed time zones and Spankies would have been too late. So, live music – other than our own singing along to the radio in the car – is off. Tomorrow, we’re in Nashville and have tickets for the Grand Ol’ Opry with various artists including Crystal Gayle.

Before I finish, the sign at Cummins Falls ends with a useful epithet which would be worthwhile for all politicians, including the President, to take on board. #justsaying

“Water flows over these hands. May I use them skilfully to preserve our precious planet.”

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Pardon me, boy, is that The Chattanooga Choo Choo

“Pardon me, boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo.”

As neither of us had been before, and as we were advised to stay away from our intended route of Charleston, Savannah and Atlanta, the quirky sounding Chattanooga seemed a good alternative. The reviews mentioned some interesting places – Ruby Falls, Lookout Mountain and the Incline Railway all sounded promising.

We had the address for the station for the Incline Railway, reputed to be the steepest passenger rail track in the world. Our sat nav once again didn’t like the address, so we just set off up the mountain anyway! One of the problems, which has taunted us since leaving Washington, is the trees. Millions of them provide an excellent barrier for any possible views. There were no ‘overlooks’ and, apart from an odd glimpse which indicated a considerable elevation, no views! I must comment once again on the number of magnificent churches dotted all across the mountain. One garage, one coffee shop, one pharmacy but I lost count of the churches after 10. The people here must be deeply religious and we noticed we had gone from “Have a nice day”, through “Y’all have a wonderful day” to today’s “Y’all have a blessed day”. The problem is that the same people are wearing t-shirts which are anything but Christian and not remotely kind to our fellow men. But they appear to love Mr Trump and their slogans appear to indicate the opposite feeling for Mr Obama.

 

Eventually we found the Incline railway, dutifully paid $15 plus tax to ride up and down what is almost, in parts, a vertical track. Carolyn reminded me she wasn’t keen on heights as we faced the plummeting track!! I assured her it would be better going back in an upwardly direction. Was this the Chattanooga Choo Choo? No, that soubriquet was reserved for the old train in days gone by which travelled from New York as far south as Chattanooga. The views from the top of the track were great and, in fact, were probably the best we managed.

 

Ruby Falls sounded wonderful but the falls were in caverns deep under ground. No thanks. I would never make a caver or a pot holer. ‘Rock City’ on Lookout Mountain was promising but not so appealing when you reached the massive car park. What were you going to see for your $30? Apparently, you could stand in one place and see 7 States. It was sunny but there was still low cloud on the tops of the surrounding mountains and we thought we might do better ourselves from the top of the mountain. We forgot the wretched trees!!

 

Never mind. We are going downtown tonight for some good ‘ole bluegrass music. We are also taking advantage of the hotel’s laundry to set off for Nashville tomorrow with a case full of clean clothes! Let’s just see who we meet along the way this time. Yesterday, I was entertained by the cashier at the garage. She pressed a wrong button and apologised for her “Brain Fart”. Always ready to learn!!!!

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Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌

What a day?! More appropriate, perhaps, on our Road Trips… what another day?!

Kath has mentioned the morning’s escapades and suffice it for me to add some photos and my usual trivia. The Incline is billed as, “’America’s Most Amazing Mile’ which has delighted guests for over a century. The Incline Railway up historic Lookout Mountain is the world’s steepest passenger railway. In operation since 1895, the Incline is a National Historic site and Mechanical Engineering Landmark.”

 

I would add that, at its steepest, it’s a gradient of 72.7%. I’ve tried to add photos which give an impression of the real angles but I’m not sure I’ve succeeded. The two otherwise identical photos of Kath differ only in making the carriage horizontal. Getting out of the car at the end was almost like climbing a ladder.

 

 

 

Disconcerting was the gaffer tape holding the window together and the Tee shirt.

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For compensation, as well as the ride, the view was impressive!

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In Tennessee, I had to think musically of Tennessee Ernie Ford whose Sixteen Tons was his biggest hit with Davy Crockett another favourite (I had a Davy Crockett hat in my early teens!). But, we’re in Bluegrass country and so, tonight, we went to live Bluegrass. Well,… out of our four live sessions so far: Blues, Jazz, Country and tonight. Regrettably, I’ve heard much better Bluegrass. The band comprised a more than competent 5-string banjo picker, a female bass player who added vocal harmonies (mainly in tune), a mandolin player who was ok and the hat wearing, guitar playing leader who had a fairly thin voice but knew the words. We left at the interval but not before a man who was, probably, very nice when sober, decided to tell me that I was the most beautiful girl in the room! Yeah, right!

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Tomorrow, we’re on the road again heading towards Nashville but pausing en route. Scanning for music, I found the venue ‘Spankies’ advertised. Maybe not!!!

Sweet Virginia

Sweet Virginia

This pair of Rolling Stones rocked into Virginia with music on our minds but first of all it was a morning to say goodbye to Washington. We set off under a cloudless blue sky, full of appreciation for the wide, tree-lined avenues and majestic monuments and buildings. We gave a nod to the White House as we drove by and I commented again how, over the years, the public have been kept further away. I remember the time, not so long ago, when I pushed my camera through the railings to take a photograph. Now the police guard extends to stop pedestrians at Constitution Avenue. A sad sign of the times.

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Soon we were out on the freeway, and enjoying the lush rolling countryside full of trees, just showing signs of beginning to change colour. We climbed steadily to the Blue Ridge Skyway (now amongst the ‘Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia’…thank you Laurel and Hardy!!) and reached Waynesboro in the early afternoon, about 200 miles from door to door.

 

 

 

We asked at the hotel about live music and were directed to a local restaurant with a duo playing some amazing blue grass tunes. I will let Carolyn talk about the music whilst I have to make mention of our drinks order. We ordered a Miller Lite (mine) whilst Carolyn asked for a Margarita. “Small, medium or……”, asked the waiter. “Large”, was the firm response. Good grief…I’ve seen smaller buckets!!! The waiter must have thought I was letting the side down, so he brought me another beer. I hardly liked to say I was mindful to swap to a cocktail. The only minor downside, for me, was it just had to be a Mexican restaurant. Never have liked Mexican food!! But the music was wonderful.

 

 

Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌

Kath, by today’s blog title, has introduced me to a great acoustic track by the Rolling Stones. Thank you. We’re not sure, though, whether the Virginia in the title is the State or a real/fictitious woman. Opinions vary. But, whatever?!

My choice of title would have been one which went back decades before the Stones to Perry Como whose hit ‘(What did) Delaware’ got to No.3 in the U.K. charts in 1960. It’s a clever song lyric with a catchy tune which has fostered variants aplenty including marching songs. As we crossed into Delaware, the song was in my head and, briefly, we sang it together out loud, but I also remembered George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River in the War of Independence. We two Brits crossed back over from Philadelphia but that’s all!

In 2009, on my only previous visit to Washington DC, I got briefly excited when I happened upon what I thought was Route 66. “I’ve driven on It!”, I thought, as this had been an ambition. I sang through the lyrics in my head and realised that Chicago to LA would not pass through Washington! Imagine my disappointment when I realised that Interstate 66 is not Route 66. It was only last year that we managed to do it properly – and it was worth it. The two roads are very different, needless to say.

 

 

 

The highlight of the day was the quite magnificent, serendipitous musical experience at the Plaza Azteca.

It was an extraordinary evening’s music. Check out, if you ever can, Steve Hoke and Dennis Thorne – individually or together. Steve’s self-made ‘instrument’ is, from the bottom, banjo, guitar, mandolin and violin/fiddle. Combined with various pedals, it is astonishing, especially the wow-wow on the fiddle! When chatting to the Lexington based lady on the next table (who entered conversation with me to ask about my Margarita!), she told me that he had taught her young daughter the guitar. It seems, like so many really talented musicians, that Steve can play almost anything with strings. His virtuosity shone like a beacon and when we talked together his gentleness was also very evident. The music ranged from self-penned banjo solos, through original country songs, via Eagles’ copies to Bluegrass classics. On the car radio today, our chosen station played one of last night’s numbers which made us sing along gleefully… we will do so again, I’m sure!

 

In search of our good friends ‘Abraham, Martin and John’

In search of our good friends “Abraham, Martin and John….” (if you listen to Marvin Gaye).

It was very much a return visit, almost a homecoming, as we drove into Washington yesterday. It may have been a few years for me, but it is a city with which I became quite familiar. We lost no time in wandering off to the Capitol Building, enjoying the afternoon sun, and from there we ambled along to Chinatown. We found it hilarious that in the middle of a Chinese area we came across the most incredible pizza ‘bar’ selling pizzas of every flavour, staffed by Italians, Americans and an Egyptian! It was so good that half the Washington Police Dept. were enjoying the food, so who were we to doubt their judgment?

Yesterday was just a quiet introduction to the main event and we set off bright and early for a 3 hour Segway Tour. Carolyn and I have segwayed in Tenerife and Cyprus, as well as the UK, but she had done Washington before. It was great to see all the familiar sights and we did hop off at several places to explore in more detail. That included a quick run up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to catch up with Abraham. We looked at the place where Martin (Luther King) delivered his “I have a dream” speech and caught up with John (F. Kennedy) at the JFK Center for Performing Arts. Such a great way to see a city.

Then it was walking time after a quick break for refreshment. We were somewhere in Foggy Bottoms and wanted to get to the Museum of African American History and Culture. This was the recommendation of a British lady we met in Philadelphia but quite a walk! One of the exhibits featured the development of black music through the ages across a number of musical genres. On arrival we discovered we should have applied for tickets on line at 6.30 am (first come, first served). The delightful security attendant was charmed by our accents, the fact that we were only in Washington for a few more hours and proceeded to help Carolyn find a link, no matter how tenuous, to the military. Would the police connection work? Carolyn had the poor lady in the palm of her hand and we were in!

It was a wonderful Museum, one of the newer Smithsonians, and the music element did not disappoint. From the jazz artists, such as Dizzy Gallespie to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, onto Chuck Berry, James Brown, through rap, hip hop and all stations to the very latest black musical stars. The cultural exhibits were equally good, even down to the political acceptability of the Afro hairstyle!

Time for a quick cuppa and a sticky bun before the long walk back to hotel. (Whose grand idea was that?). We did wander through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Fabulously simple exhibits but, sadly, the huge fountain at its heart was having a day off!

Having passed by the White House a few times during the day, how apt that White House Down is now showing on our vast hotel TV! We did look out for the President today but he didn’t give us a wave from the balcony.

Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌

Needless to say, Kath has covered most of the day. So, what of my contribution?

In 2009, I came to Washington DC for the first time. It was following the MBA graduation of my son who had received his Degree from none other than Oprah Winfrey at Duke University. A proud day all round. We then drove from Raleigh/Durham to Washington DC. My one aspiration for the trip was to stand where Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. had stood in 1963 when he extolled, “I have a dream…” I did stand there but then decided to join my son on a Segway trip round Washington’s notable sites. A memorable experience no less significant when I fell off my Segway outside the Capitol building prompting a very large American armed guard to ask, “You ok, ma’am?!” I quickly replied that I was but failed to report my bleeding knees to him (or my son!). Needless to say, the fall was down to my disobedience of basic instructions of Segway riding – do not reverse and try to turn! I learned my lesson as I’ve Segwayed in many places across Europe, and again today, without similar accident!

2009 and today…

I love Segway riding!

This visit would include another trip to the steps where the Dream speech was made but we wanted to do more. The Segway Trip lived up to expectations despite covering a different route. The White House, Blair House, Capitol, Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument were also on the agenda. A bonus was the U.S. Navy’s rifle display team who decided that two old British broads were worthy of posing for photos and, also, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. My interest was, obviously, Music and the museum did not disappoint. Running through history of, particularly, popular music, I felt reminded – were I to need it – how significant black artists and their culture have been. They broke down social as well as cultural barriers through their music.

Blues (in New York), Jazz (in Philadelphia) and the Delta Blues we will pick up later in our trip, all were founded in Black gospel. The exhibits of video of choirs, memorabilia of rock ‘n’ roll deities and music of artists who have enriched my teen years and later were evidenced throughout the fourth floor. I searched for reference to Booker T whose band were the house band for Stax records and the first multi-racial group. I found the mention, eventually, and Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn and Steve Cropper appeared to be the only non-Black musicians referenced. Interestingly, for me, Kath and I were in a tiny minority of Caucasians in the museum. Did we feel isolated? Not really. Was that because we had the benefit of institutionalised privilege? Probably, I concluded.

I’m not quite sure how some/most of these artists on the bill counted as Rock and Roll  Nat King Cole?! Duke Ellington?! Dinah Washington?! Wot?! Great artists but not Rock and Roll by my definition.

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Our visit had started with a hiccup – our allocated room was given to someone else, the car parking was $48 per day (we moved!), the coffee was cold and bitter and the rooftop pool was out of action. However, we will overcome! The compensation, responding to my obvious displeasure, was a letter of apology, a bottle of champagne, eight chocolate covered juicy strawberries. It helped sugar the pill.

Tomorrow, we head for the Blue Ridge Mountains with more than a single eye on the weather. Re-routing of our Road Trip now seems likely but our inconvenience is nothing compared to the suffering of thousands following the hurricane and its effects. Our thoughts are with them.

 

It might as well rain until September…..

“The weather here has been as nice as it can be”…….not! Yesterday’s blue skies and hot sun turned to grey, overcast and, at times, just down right wet. But we had agreed we wanted to get up close and personal with Lady Liberty and, come on, we are Brits and used to a bit of weather. I confess to chickening out on the tour bus down to Battery Park when I opted for the inside seats rather than the open deck. Once there, it was fine again and I was giddy enough to persuade Carolyn that the top deck of the boat was the best place to see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the New York skyline, etc. It was – but blooming windy so we both resorted to kagools rather than go down a deck.

We alighted at Liberty Island, took the ubiquitous daft selfies, walked the circuit and refused to contemplate climbing the inside of the statue. Poor lady, with all those tourists swarming all over the place! Anyway, we came, we saw and we left!

Next stop was Ellis Island, along with the announcement about America being the land of the free and a nation of immigrants. Nowhere is a better example of this than New York, but it would appear to an outsider such as I that, currently, any new immigrants must exclude Mexicans and Muslims. Just a thought.

We had, thus far, managed to stay dry, so emboldened by our good fortune (and as it was fine), we opted for the top open deck. Big mistake. Within 5 minutes of our 1 hour and 10 mins ride uptown, the heavens opened and the Big Bus was awash. Interestingly, as the bus moves quickly I found it a trifle painful to get heavy rain on my face. “On your right…..”, said the tour guide. “Ouch”, said I, (or words to that effect) as my left ear received a gallon of rainwater. Getting off at the end of the ride, I squelched and dripped. Carolyn suggested Macdonalds for a burger, a coffee and a warm, dry place to sit for a few mins. Of course the rain stopped immediately and only renewed its apparent challenge to soak us to the skin as we stepped out of the door. It was funny, especially after a hot bath and dry clothes.

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Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌

Kath has a penchant for politeness and understatement – it was WET and we were saturated. It was not an unavoidable happenchance caused by the heavens opening unexpectedly. The forecast said RAIN; the skies said RAIN and, even when it was raining and we were asked if we wanted to go downstairs, inside and dry, we sat there resolutely like… ducks! However,…

I’d never been to Liberty Island and, other than from the air, had never seen the Statue in person, as it were. Somehow, as Kath alluded, the current political situation almost required me to remind myself that the history of the United States is one of multiracial, multilingual, multicultural and pluralism of religious beliefs. What is going wrong, I wonder? In the U.K., we have similar issues and it’s the very group(s) professing the more fundamentally literal views of Christianity who seem to be the most bigoted and, frankly, unChristian. It was reassuring to hear the commentary on the boat reminding us that America – and particularly New York – prides itself in being cosmopolitan and accepting of anyone who wants to come to this country. Still?! The sign on the left says it all, I think. Researching Daniel Boorstin, I came across another quote worth contemplating.

One of the snippets of information which our Bus Tour Guide related to us was about Peter Stuyvesant, a Dutch notable and benefactor, who built the original Wall from which Wall Street got its name. The wall was built to keep out the Native Americans from his part of the then New Amsterdam, now New York. Our guide suggested, I suspect tongue in cheek, that he got the Native Americans to pay for the wall. Of course, over history, the Native Americans have paid a far greater price.

The musical notes for the day? The first had to be, “Didn’t it rain, children” of which I remember a black and white Granada documentary version from eons ago sung by Sister Rosetta Tharpe. My second ear worm was Gerry Marsden’s version of “Ferry ‘cross the Mersey” which, related to the purpose of Liberty Island’s Statue, could be retitled “Ferry across to Mercy”.

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Finally, as a prelude to beginning the road part of our American Music Road Trip tomorrow, the driver for our journey… extolled in Stevie Wonder’s wonderful:

“Music is a world within itself
With a language we all understand
With an equal opportunity
For all to sing, dance and clap their hands
But just because a record has a groove
Don’t make it in the groove
But you can tell right away at letter A
When the people start to move

They can feel it all over
They can feel it all over people
They can feel it all over
They can feel it all over people

Music knows it is and always will
Be one of the things that life just won’t quit
But here are some of music’s pioneers
That time will not allow us to forget
For there’s Basie, Miller, Satchmo
And the king of all Sir Duke
And with a voice like Ella’s ringing out
There’s no way the band can lose.”

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New York, New York….!

So good they named it twice….but the most difficult place to get into!  Queuing for immigration and a taxi took a massive 3 hours but we joked with a lovely lady on ‘queue control’ who found it unusual we were still smiling!  Here we are 32 floors up and looking out at the Empire State Building and the One World Trade Centre.  Fabulous.

IMG_1837By the time we arrived we were tired (simple understatement) but wouldn’t anyone want to go and soak up the atmosphere in Times Square?  It seems brighter and flashier every time I visit but just a wonderful, brash knockout.  We were hungry too, and Planet Hollywood beckoned with a $10 off flyer, so we wrapped ourselves around a couple of OMG burgers, which were exactly that! Fabulous, as was both the vanilla milkshake and something Carolyn fancied – a cocktail called ‘Terminator ‘. Maybe a punch like Arnie.

Must sleep…..early morning start, long flight, time difference and tomorrow is another day in New York…zzzzzzz!

Carolyn’s Curios

I haven’t heard “Flower” as a term of non-commital address since black, Yorkshire comedian Charlie Williams used it repeatedly on “Wheeltappers and Shunters” and “The Comedians” all those years ago. However, Mark, the cabin manager of our flight, chose the soubriquet for me immediately. Such is life! Me? A flower?! Perhaps, a fading rose with some petals missing and still the thorns prominent.

The flight was cheap, cheerful and more than acceptable. We used our own iPads but accessed the onboard entertainment wifi as per Virgin Red. So, I watched … Happy Feet 2 – go Mumble and Erik!!! My music choice as I tried to doze was the soundtrack to Nashville. Had to be bearing in mind one of our destinations.

As Kath mention, T4 JFK is, from experience, the terminal from hell – or close to it! We, as Brits, are skilled and experienced in queueing but our smiles were the only ones visible. Apparently, a previous customer, the queue steward recounted to us, found speaking English difficult but knew and used the ‘F’ word several times. The steward knew the word and some others, apparently, in her response!

The taxi driver was good at driving but less good at walking and lifting. I helped him with the cases into his yellow cab – the ubiquitous ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. And, so, we got to the hotel close by Times Square. My cocktail in Planet Hollywood named after Arnie didn’t have too much of a kick but was akin to a Long Island Iced Tea topped off with beer instead of Coke.

Walking back to the hotel after our very lengthy day (19 hours on the go) tested my new hip and relatively tender feet but seeing, listening to and smelling Times Square was worth the extra effort.

And, tomorrow is another day…