Sunday, 27 August 2017

New York & Nashville Holiday 19th-25th August 2017

New York & Nashville Holiday
19th-25th August 2017

19th-20th August

The 19th August began as planned, Dad kindly agreed to drive me to Cambridge North station. It's much better laid out than Cambridge station is now but despite being nearly brand new lacks a decent drop off area so we had to briefly stop in a disabled car park.

The journey to London was uneventful I'd then opted to tackle the tube for the journey to Heathrow airport as it's both cheaper and I had plenty of time(I thought)

Upon arrival at Heathrow I headed to Terminal 3 to check in at American Airlines and this was where the “fun” began. Their part of the airport is quite frankly poorly designed with no explanation of the bag check in procedure. After several attempts at queuing in what turned out to be the wrong places the system turned out to be this, you check your own case in at a computer terminal which prints out your bag tag, then join a long queue for bag drop.

Once I'd joined this queue it was slowly looking less and less likely that I'd have time to catch my first flight. I'd arrived at the airport over three hours before the flight was due to depart but the bag drop queue turned out to partly contain many people whose flights had been pushed forward by 24 hours due to a thunder storm the previous day.

To American Airlines credit they'd clearly initiated a contingency plan as first passengers for Philadelphia then me and several others due to board AA105 to New York were pulled out of the queue and fast tracked through bag drop.

It was after this that things started to go wrong, bear in mind I haven't flown much over the years and also this was my first flight in four years so I was rather rusty on packing and stupidly had put all my toiletries in my hand luggage. Apart from my toothpaste all were confiscated by security. This was more embarrassing than truly frustrating to be honest.

At this point though I did notice one person whose day was going far worse than mine, a lady in her 50s also bound for my flight was also having her bag searched by security who rapidly found she was traveling with Mace the anti attack spray which is entirely illegal to travel with in this country. Rather worryingly his American lady had been in our country for a few weeks so had somehow manage to enter the UK with her Mace, equally illegal!
As if to point out to her how much trouble she was in a quiet word from the security guard was soon raised to the appearance of someone higher up the scale either a supervisor or manager.

It was at this point things became more worrying for me as I was told there now wouldn't be time for me to board my planned flight to New York. But to be fair to American Airlines they then passed me on to their business partner British Airways who initially thought I might end up “on standby” I'm still not quite sure what that means by the way. But thankfully through some miracle a seat was found for me on a BA flight to New York later that afternoon.

I was issued with a new Boarding Pass and directed to the airport shuttle to get me to terminal 5, having already been through security I don't recall having to wait long to board this flight. At this point I was assured by BA that my checked in case would be with me on this flight.

There then followed a relaxing eight hours of flying and catching up on films I'd not seen at the cinema in recent months. Had time to enjoy Mind Horn(a lot of fun), Boss Baby(interestingly quirky) and Their Finest(Entertaining drama about the morale boosting British films during the 2nd world war)

Upon arrival in New York to BA’s credit they initially made every effort to fast track me towards my originally booked flight to Nashville. I was chaperoned rapidly out of the border queue and speeded through customs. I was quite frankly abandoned at luggage pick up with the assurance that a third and final person was waiting for me nearby after I'd picked up my bag.

It's at this point things started to go wrong again, I waited patiently at the luggage carousel but my case never appeared. Being all too aware of the time I decided to try and catch the flight to Nashville and hope my case would catch up with me. So I headed through the final bits of customs and grabbed a train to the terminal for my Nashville flight.

As I approached security for the gate it was only then I'd discovered I'd somehow lost my passport. I still to this day have no idea how this happened as apart from when I boarded the train to change terminals(at this point it was pocketed) It had remained firmly gripped in the fingers of my right hand.

I then started back tracking my steps, first through the departure terminal then caught the train again and repeated this arrival terminal but to no a avail. I then asked for advise from a nearby security guard who told me there was a “lost and found” on the lower level. I searched for this office only to discover that what they actually meant was that BA’s baggage office was on this level.

BA’s baggage office were polite and helpful as I reported both my missing case & passport to them. They then advised me to head over to Terminal 4 where there was a 24 hour hotel information desk & a taxi rank. I didn't think the hotel desk looked very helpful so instead booked a couple of nights at a nearby hotel using my phone, and rang home to update dad on the situation.

By this time I'd discovered I would need to apply for an Emergency Travel Document(Emergency Passport) from the New York office of the British Consulate. Whilst heading to the taxi rank I was shanghaied by a mini cab driver, this man clearly didn't know the area as it was very much a GPS lead journey to the Five Towns hotel thankfully only ten mins away.

As I'd arrived there at what was now 3.30am local time the hotel informed me I was way too early to check in for my planned Two night stay but kindly told me I wait in the first floor customer lounge till morning. Despite removing my shoes and lying down semi comfortably on one of the sofas this room was so cold due to over  aggressive air conditioning that sleep proved impossible.

After this rest I headed back down and made use of the ground floor rest room for morning ablutions. Through resourceful use of my bar of soap and razor I somehow had a half decent shave as part of this and did look presentable.

The next few hours were this odd socially uncomfortable wait which did eventually include a light breakfast despite not yet being able to check in, the receptionist on morning shift was insisting on photo ID. Thankfully he eventually caved in and let me check in but only after getting the OK from his manager.

I now had a comfortable hotel room for two nights to solve the passport issue and generally make the most of a bad thing.

I rapidly discovered a reasonably priced fast food restaurant nearby IHOP(International House of Pancakes) which kind of became my second home as I was there every lunch & dinner time for my two night stay. Also during my first 24 hours at this hotel I was visited by one of my few friends in New York,  Andre Tessier who kindly took me shopping to a nearby K Mart so I could buy clothing & toiletries.

21st August

After breakfast Monday the 21st started off as a waiting game, I'd filled in a form online and paid for my Emergency Passport but the website hit a fault before giving me an appointment time at the British Consulate. So just after 9am(they only operate Monday-Friday 9am-5pm) I rang them and was slightly surprised to get one of those automated switchboards. Thankfully I was put through to the correct person reasonably rapidly and and appointment was made for 3pm that day.

After lunch I took advantage of the hotel’s airport shuttle bus who I shared on this occasion with an airline pilot who had quite an interesting conversation about various routes some of were being dropped by his airline.

The shuttle thankfully was able to drop me at JFK terminal 4 so I made a beeline for the taxi rank and on this occasion did hire a yellow cab. Just over $50 lighter and a slightly confused driver almost dropping me at the wrong address I was outside the British Consulate. To call it an anonymous office block would be an exaggeration there was no sign outside at all!

At this point I still had one more thing to do before my appointment, get a passport photo taken. Friends on Facebook had advised me that I needed a Walgreens drug store for this and according to google maps there was one approximately 20 minute walk away.

I found Walgreens easy enough, though surprisingly there was no photo booth for passport photos. It turns out the procedure was one of the assistants had to take you to the back of the shop where there's a white background, take your photo then print it out passport sized which you paid $16 at the till!

During my walk back to the British Consulate I paused on a few occasions to see the(from this location) 76% eclipse of the sun which was happening above our heads. To be honest this made me a few minutes late for my appointment and the Consulate rang me but thankfully I'd got back to their building by then.

Understandably the Consulate is quite security conscious, my bag was X Rayed on entry and I was given a pass and escorted by lift up to their 10th floor offices.
I was served rapidly and efficiently by a friendly American gentlemen who soon set to work creating my Emergency Passport. This took a few minutes and I was given the option of leaving the building but I decided to wait there in their welcome air conditioned waiting room.

My Emergency Passport was handed to me less than an hour later and I left the building happy and relieved.

I now realised I could spend several hours exploring Manhattan, so initially asked Google maps to guide me to The Empire State Building as I'd had a couple of impressive views of the place from the cab earlier.

Using GPS on your phone to guide you round Manhattan can prove to be a bit of a tricky task as the best way to describe this part of the city is Canyon like! It towers over you and never ceases to make you feel a bit small, but I persevered and approximately 20 minutes later reached this iconic landmark. I then walked the relatively short distance to the nearby Chrysler Building. By this time I was finding the city quite inspirational the architecture reminding me of one of my all time favourite films Ghostbusters(1984)

I finished my brief look at the sights with a walk to Times Square, home of course to New York’s theatre district, many large advertising screens and on this occasion a free public art exhibition of “Sugar Children” to campaign for there to be less added sugar in food.

Catching an Uber back to the hotel proved to be slightly tricky, despite the slow traffic speeds and calling me, one driver was unable to see me at all. So I changed position and stood instead outside a large theatre nearby where a second Uber driver did find me more easily.

I arrived back at the hotel too late to eat out that night so survived on snacks till morning but did have some interesting TV to watch as PBS aired “Eclipse Across America” I also ended the evening with a brief sighting of British TV as they also aired BBC World news.

22nd August

After a reasonably sized if basic breakfast at the hotel, I checked out and grabbed the airport shuttle to arrive at JFK several hours before my flight. My only mistake at this point was underestimating the sheer scale of the airport.

My flight wasn't due to begin boarding till 2.25pm, so I didn't even walk over to security till 2pm only to be slowed down slightly by being part of a queue where everyone was being sent through the whole body scanner. Before I could leave security I was given a full pat down by a thankfully friendly security guard.

 I then found myself hightailing it to my gate for my flight to Nashville as I was one of three passengers names being read out on the PA as yet to board. Thankfully I did board the aircraft OK. This being a Two and a half hour internal flight there was zero in flight entertainment so I was greatful for two things music on my phone & my book to read.

Upon arrival my first impressions of Nashville International Airport were that it instantly felt a more friendly and welcoming than either Heathrow or JFK with its large carpeted areas and free live country music on tap less than ten minutes walk from my gate.

I quickly found my bearings as thankfully there seems to be a degree of commonality to airport design and I soon found American Airlines baggage office who as promised to me in recent days via both email and phone calls did indeed have my missing case. I was then able to message Jason Chuang a local Dr Who fan who’d kindly agreed to let me stay at his apartment for a couple of nights before my flights home.

Jason’s arrival at the airport was slightly delayed due to GPS issues but I'd found somewhere comfortable enough to wait and we soon met up and shared an evening meal together at a local chicken restaurant.

Jason lives about a 40 minute drive outside Nashville but this was a plus as I was able to take in the sights of rural America as we headed towards his apartment. We arrived in good time and managed to get inside just as one of Nashville’s semi regular thunder storms arrived. Having explained how much rarer such storms are in the UK he opened the blinds and I stood by the window for a few minutes watching the show.

We ended the evening watching various you tube videos. I then had an OK-ish night’s sleep.

23rd August

Jason works from home in IT so the next day began with him doing some work before we headed out for breakfast at First Watch Daytime Cafe. Once we’d returned to his apartment, I was able to book an Uber and wait out by the nearby main road for it to arrive.

The friendly local driver got the story of my holiday so far then dropped me to use his words “At the centre of everything!” which was just round the corner to The Johnny Cash museum which would be an early port of call for me. First up through souvenir buying was on the  agenda as I'd done none of that on my whistle stop tour of Manhattan recently. I looked round the nearby Cotton Eye Joes gift shop and bought a few reasonably priced bits of tourist tat including a rather nice mug.

I then headed to the nearby Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery and was pleasantly surprised to find Fish and Chips on their menu so ordered that partnered with a Diet Coke for my lunch. The fish was batter covered and as good as any cod I'd eaten at uk chippy the chips however which were hiding under the fish were way too salty. So on the whole a 6/10 mark compared to many 9s or 10s I could award back home.

I then headed to the nearby Johnny Cash Museum, a fascinating place and excellent value at approx $18.50 which told the complete story of the great man. It was an exit via the gift shop attraction so I bought a few cheap souvenirs on my way out.

Jason had advised me then to visit Goo Goo, which is a candy store immediately across the street. The  oder of sugar as you enter Goo Goo is very pleasant but slightly overpowering! I'm not keen on peanut butter they'd flavoured a lot of their wares with but did buy a large bag of pick & mix candy on my way out.

I then went on a long but interesting walk up Broadway a street literally jam packed with bars & restaurants many of whom were hosting free live music to encourage people inside. I however was headed to the Frist Museum of Art which unfortunately was closed by the time I arrived.

As I was now sat outside a large noticeable sign I decided to call another Uber to head off to my final piece of US tourism. This however took two attempts as one driver got lost in a nearby car park but thankfully the second driver found me more easily.

My destination was Cooter’s Place a small free to enter museum on the edge of town dedicated to preserving the memory of and much of the merchandise from the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard. It's owned and run by actor & musician Ben Cooper who starred as Cooter in the show. It's a fascinating place which a proceeded to document through photos and videos. I bought a couple of things in the shop on my way out and then walked to a nearby McDonald's which I noticed whilst arriving by Uber earlier.

This McDonald's proved to be surprisingly fascinating too as it was not only a restaurant but also had on display old musical instruments and radios as well as a small stage for live music, this was Nashville after all.

After another Uber back to Jason’s apartment we spent the evening watching various you tube videos and me recommending him some channels on that site to learn about the UK which he plans to visit eventually with his girlfriend.

24th-25th August

Thursday began with me finishing my packing before one final breakfast out with my host Jason. Having informed him I was down to my last few $ we headed to his nearest McDonald's I had a Sausage Breakfast Biscuit. Which translates as a sausage meat burger, an egg and a slice of cheese in a roll.

Although the first of my two flights home wasn't till early evening I asked Jason to get me to Nashville airport several hours early as my aim was to check in as early and wait at the gate.

Boarding was straightforward for what turned out to be the shortest flight of my holiday, we were only in the air for one hour fifteen minutes.

I then had to walk swiftly through Chicago O Hare airport to reach gate K19 for my flight home, which by the time I got there had mere minutes to go till boarding.

Although this flight was a red eye with a departure time of 10.30pm, me and sleeping on planes have never been good bedfellows, so I resolved to continue catching up on movies throughout the flight.

This time I started with The Founder a Micheal Keaton movie about the origins of Mc Donald's, I enjoyed this especially as it was set in the 1950s one of my favourite eras of American history.

The meat in my three movie sandwich was Ghost in The Shell a visually spectacular live action adaptation of a manga comic. The acting and visuals in this movie were excellent but I found the plot a tad confusing.

Finally I watched the much praised Logan part of the  X Men franchise, this rather darker comic book movie was definitely worth my time.

The final few minutes of the flight were spent listening to music as I'd discovered there was a good selection of that too on the in flight entertainment system.

Passing through Heathrow was relatively pain free as I waived goodbye to my Emergency Passport which had to be handed to UK Border control, finding the correct baggage carousel for my case was a little fiddiler but the bag itself soon made an appearance once I knew where to look.

The plane had in fact landed half an hour earlier than scheduled so after a brief call home I headed to the tube at was at King’s Cross so early I had to wait for my train home.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Dreams May 2017

The following were posted to Facebook straight after I woke up after having various dreams in May 2017.

Another interesting dream last night, was in a high budgeted Dr Who fan film with Mark Strickson. Though it seemed to be being filmed in my workplace with odd use of CCTV in some shots but also very impressive 3D graphics of a spinning planet for us to hang off!
(20th May 2017)

Very, very odd dream. Featuring Ian Mc Shane, John Altman, Tom Baker and a very youthful looking Heather Allen
It featured body mutilation(whilst the victim was conscious), don't worry Heather you weren't hurt or doing the hurting.
Also there was criminal infiltration of the Dr Who Experience or studio whilst Tom Baker pretended to be an out of work drama teacher.
Won't forget Ian McShane cutting up John Altman whist Altman was conscious in a hurry,his face was being dismantled from the inside yet he was still awake and not experiencing pain or spurting blood it was very odd.
Not sure what the eccentric collection of criminals were planning.
Heather you were a glamously dressed member of the public visiting a stately home I think.
The criminals gathered near the beginning on a very expensive looking luxury boat, which Altman, who they'd hired dived into the water and swam towards.
(19th May 2017)

Odd dream where me a non driver had suddenly decided to buy a car. Somehow it was only £4000 yet brand new, yellow and a small 4x4. Hadn't ticked a box for colour so the yellow was imposed on me. My maths is surprisingly good whilst asleep £15 a month for 15 years (do they do deals like that?)
(15th May 2017)

Dreamt I went to the Palace of Westminster on a works outing. Bizarrely we got to watch PMQs from the govt back benches I say watch it was so warm I fell asleep but woke up to see most of the MPs gone & Jeremy Corbyn and a colllegue nearby. I went over and shook his hand saying "Very good luck sir and I hope your still running the party after the election" he answered "Thanks and so do I" after this I joined a queue of us leaving for some reason my dad and brother were there and I said I hope there's a shop someone should buy some post cards.
(12th May 2017)