The Long Distance Twitter Introduction

Chloe and Allan met up with Abby, a long distance friend of Chloe through a mutual love of Dr Who via the wonders of Twitter. Much discussion with each other on the merits of various Doctors and agreement with each other about the general uselessness of Amy Pond – obviously not concurred with by Allan. A lovely meal was had at Whym on 9th Avenue / around 57th Street with a walk back via the bright lights of Times Square which was a fitting ending to our holiday.

A gallery – or should that be a Gallifrey – of photos will be posted on our return to the UK.

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The New York City Tourist Runaround

The last couple of days have been spent seeing a few of the sites of NYC. This time we visited another Guggenheim museum to compare/contrast with the Bilbao and Venice ones we have seen in the past couple of years. To keep with the geekish holiday, it was also in Men In Black. Unfortunately Allan couldn’t begin to emulate Will Smith by running around the helix pathway to the top of the 8th floor for many reasons and not least because there were John Chamberlain sculptures all the way up. Guggenheim’s museum’s first piece of art is always the building itself and this one was very spectacular. There was a small Kandinsky gallery and also a gallery of around 30 paintings which were a who’s who of famous names from Monet to Picasso to Manet. A few hundred million dollars in such a small space.

Next up was a walk over Brooklyn bridge for Allan. A clear day without a cloud in the sky ensured that the views were pretty good over the East river taking in lower to mid Manhattan as well as to the southern islands of Staten, Ellis and Liberty.

This bridge was built over 100 years ago and is still as iconic as it probably was when first built. The wooden pedestrian walkway seems a little fragile in places, definitely not one to bounce on.

To end the day and with a freshly purchased giant foam finger with “Let’s go Rangers” written on it, Chloe and Allan went to an Ice Hockey match along with 18,000 others at Madison Square Garden (not on Madison Avenue – why not?). The New York Rangers were playing the New Jersey Devils and it soon transpired the teams – and some of the fans – really don’t like each other. A few penalties for fighting on the ice and a similar number of ejections out of the crowd later and a low scoring 2-0 win to the Rangers was the final result. The player of the night was Rangers number 30, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and from the number of shirts with number 30 emblazoned with his name and the chant of “Hen-Rik.. Hen-Rik”, it clearly isn’t the first time for the Swedish hero.

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The Frankenstein Library Experience

Our hotel is called The Library. It’s on Library Walk (or East 41st Street). The pavement outside is studded with plaques each carrying a quote about the importance of the written word. It seemed rude not to make a pilgrimage to the New York Public Library’s Stephen A Shwarzman Building.

I know this is THE New York library, the one of which all other New York libraries are mere shadows, but, even for the mothership, the Shwarzman is magnificent. Great stone lions guard the wide stone steps that climb to a be-columned entranceway of vast proportions. The first hall is all marble, swinging lights and leaded windows.

Whoever built this loved books.

And, as it is celebrating its 100th anniversary, a special exhibition of some the prized items in its collection are on display – from tiny cuneiform tablets pressing out the inventory of Mespotamian merchants to huge, hand-painted tomes capturing the birdlife of America. There was also: a tiny volume of poetry by Phillis Wheatley, who was kidnapped from Gambia and brought to the US as a slave at the age of eight; an early draft of the Declaration of Independence (which had the outlawing of slavery removed during negotiation); Virginia Woolfe’s walking stick; and Jack Kerouac’s journal, Valium and rolling papers.

The highlight of the day was a visit to the small, but nonetheless precious, Shelley collection (on loan from Bodleian). Amongst the letters, paintings and diary extracts were two unmissable items: Mary Shelley’s original notebooks in which she wrote her first draft of Frankenstein, and one belonging to Percy Shelley, in which he has copied out a final version of Ozymandias.

Mary Shelley’s handwriting is quite legible and, as Chloe stood with her nose against the glass for slightly longer than was acceptable, she was able to read every word of Doctor Frankenstein’s final efforts and eventual success in completing his creature. It was a moment to send shivers down anyone’s spine.

Then, on the way out, she caught sight of a scruffy notebook and tight, cramped handwriting, in which was inked one the best-known poems in the English language. “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

Er…OK.

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The William Shatner Experience

So we’re in New York. You can’t be in New York without taking in a show. Unfortunately, Allan and Chloe have very different ideas of what constitutes good theatre. There’s just one thing they can agree on – no musicals. This wipes out 80% of the entertainment on offer.

Chloe suggests Murray F Abraham in Gallileo. Allan suggests no theatre at all, since it’s pretty much always excruciating.

After considering and rejecting a number of Toni award winning productions, they plump on something without a cast of hundreds, no animatronics, in which every scene does not end in a song and which, incredibly, makes a virtue of being excruciating.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Shatner’s World. William Shatner’s one-man show about his life, loves and philosophies. An hour and a half of musings on Star Trek, horse rearing and death. It has some very funny bits, some quite raw moments where he admits to things he is ashamed of, and quite a moving section where he comes to terms with Captain Kirk being his most recognised performance (with the help of Patrick Stewart). At one point, he actually becomes Alexander the Great during an intense performance in the 60s. The show finishes with one of his famous talk-sing numbers.

Bizarre. Ego-centric. And ultimately very likeable.

What a weird way to spend an afternoon.

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The Big Apple Porterhouse Seduction

After another spectacular plane journey from Las Vegas to New York, which overflew the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon and some massive circular farms, we arrived in New York. Just don’t ask about the landing at JFK.

Actually do. It was the singular most terrifying landing that either of us has ever experienced. We were about to land when the plane suddenly pulled up very sharply. This was followed a few minutes later by the pilot’s announcement that air traffic control had placed us “a little close to the plane in front”. When we landed 30 minutes later, on the second attempt, we realised that visibility was down to about 100m due to heavy fog. This put “a little close” into the context of “oh my god they’re still on the runway”. As you can all imagine, Chloe did not take it well.

We’re now on sort of familiar ground, having been to NYC a couple of times before. In addition, a place that has great public transport always puts a nice tick in the box for us and we both also seem to be getting over our various cold/flu symptoms. Today has been a true New York tourist experience. We picked up some real shopping bargains at Macy’s – though are slightly bemused at why the US can offer insanely cheap Levi’s, moisturiser and handbags but not a single wool scarf.

This was followed by drinks at our rooftop bar (a mere fourteen floors up). While we sipped cocktails with a literary theme (we are, after all, just a few hundred feet from the beautiful New York Public Library), like the Oscar Wilde and the Hemmingway, we could see a wee sliver of the Empire State Building through the towers that surrounded us. Frankly, in this place, fourteen floors is small fry.

Finally, we rounded off the evening with the best steak we have ever eaten, in a place just down the road called Benjamin Steakhouse – truly melt in your mouth stuff.

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The Crashing Fiery Death Cancellation

Despite Chloe’s dire foretellings of doom, death and destruction, we survived the helicopter trip to the Grand Canyon. In fact, we did much more than survive. It was one of the single most spectacular sights that either of us has ever seen. After Chloe was comforted by our pilot, Chuck’s, CV (he flew black hawk helicopters at a height of 10ft at night for much of his career), we were free to enjoy the ride.

Travelling north west out of Boulder City, the flight took us over the Hoover Dam. Commissioned during the Great Depression, when US unemployment was at 25%, it employed thousands of citizens. Over 100 died in its construction, mainly of heatstroke, but it has provided this corner of America with electricity for nearly 100 years and paid for itself ten times over. Who said ambitious public investment wasn’t a good idea during a recession?

Lake Mead was created as a result of the Dam. It is into Mead that the Colorado River, which runs Roadrunner-style through the bottom of the Grand Canyon, flows. We found the point where the river meets the lake. A gentle turn to the right and…

…wow. It’s the Grand Canyon. At this point words fail both of us. We have seen the desert at Wadi Rum in Jordan and the Ella Gap in the Sri Lankan mountains, but nothing comes close to this scale. Both of those places elicited wonder but also a sense of how other people have lived there, seeing them and being part of them on a daily basis. It’s very hard to connect with something this vast.

Packed lunch and a glass of champagne, a short wander around (which most of us chose to use by just standing and looking, open mouthed) and we were off again.

Perhaps it was the mighty awesomeness of nature, perhaps it was the wine, but Chloe forgot to be scared on the way back. We took another route this time, across more open desert studded with the odd building and one particularly desperate looking town. Chuck, observed that you essentially had to be crazy or a felon to choose to live somewhere so inhospitable.

Back to Vegas, where our drop off to the hotel was (for some reason none of us could quite work out) completed by limo. They really are not very comfortable, but it was a glamourous way to end an incredible morning.

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The Piazza San Marco Experience

Day 3 in Las Vegas and both of us are feeling a little better after 18 odd hours sleep yesterday recovering from various cold and/or jet lag. We went to The Venetian and gasped both in amazement and at the stupididy of the canals, gondolas, Piazza San Marco and an almost a full size Campanile – obviously doesn’t match in any way the real thing, but you have to admire the guts in creating Venice in the middle of the desert.

A strawberry daiquiri interlude, then a massive $6 each bet ended up with Chloe coming out $20 ahead, and Allan $15. Lunch was had at the Cheesecake factory, which was superb –  no wonder Sheldon, Leonard and the gang go there every week.

The evening was spent window shopping at Prada, Gucci and the other outlets, which we really need to win a little more than $30-odd to fully enjoy. It was then time to lose $12 of our gambling profit – boo to Bellagio’s and Bally’s – we don’t like them. Watching the fountains at Bellagio’s made up for our vast disappointment.

Next up, the Grand Canyon tomorrow morning, can’t wait!

PS Chloe would like to tell everyone she loves them, just in case the helicopter trip ends in the expected crashing and certain death she predicts. If not, well, see you all in a week or so.

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The Lucky Parisian Slot Machine

Arrival in Las Vegas with a spectacular 1 hour plane ride from Los Angeles. America looked very very empty on the way here with flat desert with only the odd hill. Even Chloe looked out at the wonder of it all on occasions.

Welcome to Las Vegas with what seemed like a mile long taxi queue that somehow only took 20 minutes to start our short journey to the Paris Hotel. Both of us haven’t done too much research into Las Vegas, more in fear than anything else – we may not have come if too many of the horrors of Sin City were available to us. First signs were interesting – we have a room on the 28th floor room with an Eiffel Tower view and also can see the Bellagio fountains going off every half hour in the evening. Oh, did we also forget to mention, there’s a Parisian walkway with fake blue sky and a bloody big Arc de Triomphe in the outside part of the hotel?

Next came a tour around some of the other close by hotels; Caesars Palace and Bally’s. Caesars, obviously for Vegas, has a Roman theme even going as far as naming the 6 swimming pools after Roman gods. It was also when Allan braved the first attempt at one of the several gazillion slot machines. Picking one that looked very easy to use and putting his first dollar in, won around 60c. Then, after putting in 2 more hard earned dollars and one press away from losing the lot, somehow won just over $15. It was time to give up and cashing in the vast winnings was very satisfying and may just pay for lunch, viva Las Vegas baby !!

Off to have a lie down, the excitement is just too much.

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The Science Officer Disappointment

Allan decided to escape the Dr. Who scene and go off to see the Griffith Observatory which happened to be giving a lecture to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first orbital mission by the USA. This was meant to be with Leonard Nimoy and John Glenn.

Two bus and three metro rides were involved much to the surprise of the hotel reception staff of not doing this journey by hire car. The scenery went from suburban, regeneration-challenged neighbourhoods to the beautiful homes and people of  the hills near the observatory. It took over 2 hours although this was still an hour quicker than by car.

The journey was worth every dime, well the $5 all day metro/bus pass anyhow, to see the view at the observatory. Absolutely stunning vistas of the Hollywood hills, the vast urban sprawl of Los Angeles and the actual observatory itself. The exhibits were excellent; with moon rock, the biggest photo of the night sky in the world and a homage to Pluto suggesting that its designation in 2006 as a non-planet may not be final word.

However, there was the disappointment that the lecture was not with the said Leonard Nimoy, it was in the Leonard Nimoy theatre (yes, seriously, they have named the lecture hall after Spock himself) and also they showed a film of John Glenn, not the man himself. However, the film was one of the best space films around; felt almost real-time of the actual first USA orbital mission. Allan found out how John Glenn told the vice president that he would quit the mission and go to the press if he ever tried to use his wife as a press opportunity, how close the whole mission was from disaster when the heat shields had problems and lastly, how many times during the journey he was asked for updates by his management. The last of which confirms Allan’s perception that NASA are indeed just a bunch of project managers. Fascinating. A clip is available here for all you space nerds out there.

After this, there was just time enough to take in the beginnings of  an amazing sunset at the observatory and then it was time for the long, but uneventful journey back to the hotel. Well worth the visit, just a shame that Spock was not there in person.

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The Self Indulgent Geek Itinerary

Best morning ever. We kicked off proceedings with a briefing on the developing history of the TARDIS, as prepared for Neil Gaiman while he was writing ‘The Doctor’s Wife’. Did you know the cloister bell was first heard in a Baker episode? That Pertwee was the first to pilot a TARDIS console without the surrounding ship? That the TARDIS really liked Leela (scary knife girl)? Did you care? Several hundred people in LA did.

Richard Senior gave us an energetic live commentary to his Season 6 episode, Let’s Kill Hitler. Lots of continuity errors that only a director could worry about, and decisions about where to save and/or spend budget. Despite his enthusiasm, he had the sense to stay quiet for the best line:

“I was on the way to this gay gypsy bar mitzvah for the disabled when I thought ‘Gosh, the Third Reich’s a bit rubbish – I think I’ll kill the Fuhrer.'”

On to the Inspector Spacetime panel, which was funny, moving and enlightening. I had no idea Graham Chapman had such a tough time as the Sixth Inspector. When another UK delegate told of how happy he was that the show he grew up with had been embraced by the US, I nearly cried. My bedroom was smaller on the inside too, and I don’t think Americans always get that because there’s just so much space here.

We heard a live run through of the first webisode of the latest Inspector Spacetime adventure, which was superb. I suspect tomorrow’s Kickstarter project launch will be a roaring success. NBC should take note of the brand new audience that the Inspector is gaining for Community . I knew of IS way before Community, but will now be buying the remaining seasons on DVD.

Surely, NBC should owe the Inspector some kind of fee for that income generation, shouldn’t they?

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