New York Diary

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Tuesday 14 November

For a change - not rushed. ECML still in chaos so headed for 0930 service to York - this would still give a later arrival at Kings Cross. First bus to Waverley was a new Trident - with plenty of luggage space! GNER guy said, "Get any train". 0930 service seems quiet - unusual to see no reservation labels but people still trying to find "their" seats.

Although it is a mainly sunny day - the coast around Lamberton was as fantastic as ever - there is still water in the fields south of Berwick, and a microlight south of Chathill just hanging in the air! Newcastle grey as the sun has disappeared. Didn't realise how close the Telewest arena is to Central station. Never seen as few people on these services - this coach has about a dozen folk on board. Much water in fields north of Darlington - came close to the rails so it might have been over the rail level last week.

Weather now completely overcast, and visibility not brilliant with light mist. Still plenty of speed restrictions, many as low as 20mph. It has started raining! Walking pace at Skelton Bridge Junction north of York where much flooding is in evidence. Railtrack bods surveying the line - an MGR in the opposite direction might as well be using slow speed control!

Several coaches waiting outside York station - the departure was a few minutes behind the advertised time but we get to Doncaster ahead of schedule. This was only after some difficult manoeuvring in the station car park. At least the sun came out again on the A1. Instead of a service ready to take the passengers further south we had to wait around 45 minutes for a Leeds - Kings Cross service. I was able to spend the time usefully listening to Mark'n'Lard but photography of the three freight movements in the station was out of the question given the relative position of the sun and me. Plenty of seats on the ex-Leeds service but the same pattern of speed restrictions slowed the journey down. Sun setting just before Peterborough which was busy with at least three northbound freights. I have had the time to read some of the Time Out and Rough Guides to New York.

Train eventually arrived at Kings Cross just before 1800. Decided not to get the first Piccadilly line service to Heathrow from Kings Cross/St Pancras as the next but one train following four minutes later was also going to Heathrow. The usual lengthy journey passed and I went round to Terminal 1 to get the Hotel Hoppa bus - took a while to find the right stop and then had to wait for the correct bus. The IBIS hotel wasn't reached until just before 2000. The hotel is a bit faded and the restaurant was not especially brilliant but it is reasonably cheap and close to Heathrow. Tried to get an early night hoping that the half litre of wine will help.

Wednesday 15 November

Looked at the time when I awoke - 0454. Not bad considering I set alarms for 0500. Not too long to wait for a bus to arrive but a huge Canadian lady delays the departure. Get to Terminal 1 and head for the Heathrow Express - travel between the stations for Terminal 1/2/3 and Terminal 4 is free! Another wait - but a chance to examine the trains. Plenty of money spent on them including flat screen TVs showing BBC World - but then given that the single fare to Paddington is £15 they can afford it! Arrive at Terminal 4 and join the queue for BA check-in at 0640. Get finished about 0705 and look for somewhere to eat. Choice before the departure area is uninspiring - do not fancy a Wetherspoon breakfast! However, the choice beyond the security cordon is equally bad - plenty of tax free shops but not many places to eat. Settle for a McDonalds.

Board the plane at 0815 - 747s are big! I am lucky to have a window seat, although with all the fog at Heathrow there is not much to see. Weather has been causing problems so we don't eventually take off until 1010 - after a convoluted move across one of the runways. Very impressed with the entertainment available via the seat back screen, particularly the maps and facts section detailing the flight information and our position during the journey. We are kept well supplied with food and drink during the journey - including a frozen yoghurt choc ice - and I go easy on the alcohol, only having a quarter bottle of wine with the main meal (an adequate dish of chicken tikka). The flight is fairly smooth with the only really bumpy bit as we descend to New York. Arrival is only 20 minutes behind schedule at 1205.

Immigration and customs are fairly swift, as is baggage collection, with the result that I have bought my ticket for the express bus to Manhattan by 1250. It takes a while for one to arrive but when it does we set off at some pace for NYC. Thank goodness I don't have to drive here! Arrival at Grand Central Terminal is followed by some confusion with the advice being to get back on the bus for the Port Authority Bus Terminal and walk 8 blocks rather than wait 20+ minutes for the next shuttle bus. More manic driving on show - and the pedestrians are not much better with one elderly lady having to be helped by the NYPD as she threaded her way through the traffic to cross the road! It wasn't too much of a hike to the hotel and I was able to check in right away. I get a room on the 34th floor! Although the hotel isn't in the best location, it is clean and has been recently refurbished. The room isn't huge but is certainly good enough.

After a little rest to recharge the batteries I go for a walk round Penn Station and Madison Square Garden across the street. I then extend this to a walk up 5th Avenue and then across to Times Square before heading back to the hotel. Why is it that the pedestrian crossings are not synchronised with the time it takes to walk a block - not that the drivers are good at obeying the signals. My body clock is still a bit out of sorts - after all it is now 2300 GMT!

Have a burger at the Tick Tock diner adjoining the hotel and then buy a paper to see what is on TV - excited about the Heat v Nets on TNT! Except that it doesn't appear to be on - the screen is blank! Have to resort to watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire - the format is the same as the UK version, even down to the music, although the questions seem easier and it is played at a much faster pace. Try to get in touch with Toria's friend Linda, but have to leave a message on her answering machine.

Thursday 16 November

Decided to start by going south - the intention was to follow the Early Visions of New York walk. This started from Battery Park so I headed down 5th Avenue - still looking for the NBA store (since I didn't see it, it must be higher than about 45th Street). The first major landmark I come across is one of the most famous in New York - the Flatiron Building (time for the camera). I followed 5th Avenue down to Washington Square Park (stopping off for a ham and cheese croissant and coffee for breakfast on the way), where I'm sure someone was offering me 'ganga'!

Then it was into SoHo heading further south, with the buildings quite low and spaced out. Eventually I came to the World Trade Center plaza and decided to visit the observation deck on one of the towers. This is reached by 2 elevators, one to get to the 78th floor (ears popping on the way!) and then a second one to go to the top. The views of the city are incredible, but the real highlight is going on the escalator to the rooftop observation point. Out in the open it is possible to take photographs. I spend a little time trying to get some good shots, and am stopped with a request to take someone's photo (another Brit!) and I get him to take my photo with the New York skyline behind too. I don't think it is worth getting anything from the gift shop!

From the World Trade Center I walk to Battery Park - the financial district is bustling with people heading to lunch and lunch heading to people (pizza boxes steaming with hot contents and cardboard boxes full of rolls).

Battery Park is very tacky with lots of cheap souvenirs and hawkers with suitcases of watches. I decide not to go for a trip to the Statue of Liberty but take some photos from the very south edge of Manhattan. I follow roughly the route of the walk, which takes me up Wall Street, a rather narrow road with big offices. I head past the Stock Exchange and head north up Nassau Street. After a brief stop for a sub lunch (which takes place in a venue where a whole load of NYPD officers arrive for their lunch too!), I head towards the Brooklyn Bridge. The first route I take does not give pedestrian access to the bridge - I should really read the guide book! - so I retrace my steps to City Hall Park. The area around City Hall is swarming with police, including mounted officers, in place ahead of a rally by teachers who are in dispute with the city over pay. I follow the instructions in the Rough Guide when walking out across the bridge. Just over the half way point I turn round and look at Downtown Manhattan. Wow! It certainly is the 1990s metropolis and I am glad that I didn't miss it.

Given that it will take some time to get back to the hotel, I set off north through the edge of Chinatown once I return to City Hall. I decide to walk back along Broadway which has a strange mixture of shops, some expensive and designer, others with furniture and discount shoes and the like. At Union Square I wander into Barnes and Noble, but they had a somewhat limited selection of basketball books! Further up Broadway I return to the Flatiron Building as I intersect 5th Avenue. Near to the hotel, I come across the Manhattan Mall which is advertised in the hotel brochure. It is a bit of a glorified St James Centre and I wasn't impressed! It is quite difficult to find newsagents so that I can get the NBA preview magazines for Ian. But I do wander into a deli to pick up some Diet Coke (cans at $1 each in the hotel machines are too expensive!) and some Bud in case I can get to see some sporting events in the evening! At least the hotel ice machine and bucket will enable the cans to be kept cold!

Success! After the rather mediocre meal in the adjoining Italian restaurant, the Lakers v Kings is on TNT! Perhaps the reason that the Nets game was not on last night was because it was local. Noticed that Golden State are 1-7 - can't see them beating the Knicks on Sunday!

Had the bball not been on, I would at least have had the choice of a college football game on ESPN - it looks freezing in Colorado!

What a basketball game! The Kings were up by 10 at the end of the third (playing at home) but the Lakers cut the lead to 1 with 40.6 seconds to go. Then the game was tied at 102 with 2.3 seconds to go! No last second winner for the Kings so it's overtime. A massive block by Shaq when the Lakers were 2 up and the Kings were trying to shoot the final basket allowed the Lakers to retain possession. A foul sent Kobe to the free throw line - game over! 2 more points followed by a consolation basket for the Kings saw the Lakers running out winners by 2.

The Bud was definitely a good idea as for some reason someone has started digging up the road nearby with a pneumatic drill!

Friday 17 November

Started off with the intention to head north. I walked along past the Empire State Building, making a mental note to visit before I depart. I walked north up 5th Avenue, and eventually came across the NBA store at 52nd Street. The shops at this end are certainly much better than the ones down near my hotel! Shortly after the NBA store the Trump Tower is on the other side of the street, with expensive jewellery stores at ground level. A few blocks further up is the southern end of Central Park and I partake of classic New York culture by buying a cream cheese bagel and coffee from one of the street vendors. Central Park provides a quiet venue to eat and read a bit of the Rough Guide.

From where I enter the park it is not obvious how vast it is but as I start walking around the size soon becomes clear! I see the Strawberry Fields area, dedicated to the memory of John Lennon and climb to the highest point, the Belvedere Castle, to take some pictures. There were plenty of people in the park from those walking their dogs to a group of moms doing pushchair aerobics - running around with their strollers under the command of an instructor!

I return to 5th Avenue and wander into the Metropolitan Museum of Art - I don't really want to spend my time here (particularly since the weather is sunny and has turned out better than the forecast) so it is just a quick glance at the interior. Heading back towards Midtown I walk down Madison Avenue - no cheesy pop songs but plenty of designer stores, all the big names are here. After a while I cross over to Park Avenue, and instantly recognise the street scene of New York familiar from photos and film. The wide street makes it easier to see the skyscrapers compared with some other areas of the city. I pass one of the most famous names - the Waldorf Astoria - as I pass under the Helmsley Building. The next building in this direction is the Met Life Building, but where I am really heading is Grand Central Terminal.

As I travel into the building I see one of the few newsagents I've seen so far so I stop to have a look at the NBA magazines for Ian. He only wanted 2, but I got 7! Even the cashier noticed, although perhaps it was not surprising given that I was spending $42! With my rucksack a bit heavier, I resume the journey to Grand Central. The route I've taken leads via a down escalator to the main concourse, and the building lives up to its impressive billing. The lighting is subdued but there is much to admire, and the busy concourse adds to the atmosphere. I even get to see a train leaving for Stanford!

I return the way I came and stop by an Italian café for lunch. As usual the portion is far too big, and I make the mistake of having a glass of wine - expensive, but nice. I try out one of my travellers cheques to replenish some of my cash - no problem in it being accepted. Since I've seen the NBA store I think it is best to try and get the various bits and pieces there, but take a bit of a circuitous route to get there. I head up Lexington with the intention of turning into 53rd Street to see the CBS Building. As I walk along 53rd Street I see the Museum of Modern Art and I pop into the shop to look for the cards James asked me to get. After a bit of searching I locate them; the assistants must be volunteer labour - that is the only explanation I can think of for them being so surly! The CBS Building isn't very impressive - not the 2001 overtures as hinted at by one guide - and 52nd Street for the NBA store is one block down. Whilst in the area I decide to have a look at the inside of the Trump Tower - and it is a gross example of bad taste!

Finally I go into the NBA store - and what a huge amount there is on sale. I don't know how long I was there - extended by wanting to try on a sweatshirt to check it was too big for me and would fit Ian and being delayed by two Americans who seemed to want to try on everything in the store! Eventually mission is accomplished, although I couldn't get the NBA Register as the store only has their copy, for reference. On the way back I ask at Barnes and Noble if they could order the NBA Register - they can but it would take 3 days to get it! I'll keep looking but Ian might have to resort to amazon.com or bn.com??

I had some thought of trying to visit the Empire State Building but it was getting a bit too dark so I head back to the New Yorker, picking up a copy of the Post on the way. The sports pages are full of advice for the Knicks coach as the team are 5-4 having lost 2 road games (and Golden State in Indiana by 2 tonight) and there is a story picked up from the National Enquirer about a supposed Canadian love child for Prince Charles - the main evidence appearing to be a resemblance to Prince William! However, the paper does impart some important information - a college basketball double-header on ESPN! Just enough time for a quick look round Macy's and fast food from McD's before settling down with more Bud.

Duke win the first game against Villanova at home and the second game is Temple at Memphis. Evidence for just how big the college game is given by the fact that the coach has a $4.5 million contract over 5 years (and a $15,000 clothing allowance!), they have 5,000 season ticket holders and there was a six figure donation for new lockers. That, and also the advertising by ESPN for their pay-per-view option which gives subscribers over 450 live games! Some strange rules in the college game compared with the NBA - a 35 second shot clock and players can call time outs on court (like a time when they see the ball going out of bounds and they can retain possession!). The exterior of Memphis' home court ('The Pyramid') is right over the top - but you can't knock them getting over 20,000 fans in! Apparently it is known as the 'Tomb of Doom'.

Saturday 18 November

Decide to start at Macy's since it was opening at 9 in advance of Thanksgiving Week and it was only 2 blocks away. Picked up some trousers and spent enough to get a cut-price Mickey Mouse for Eilidh. There was the usual standard of service found in American stores. Didn't see much else that I fancied, although there will be time for another look round before I depart. I will definitely need to buy another bag to take the stuff home! Since Macy's is so close to the New Yorker I return with my purchases before retracing my steps to the Empire State Building.

The entrance hall is impressive, exactly in the style you would expect from a landmark building completed in 1931. However, the queue you join to purchase your ticket winds its way down in the rather dreary basement of the building. The notices stating that credit cards and coins are not accepted look rather outdated in a city where plastic is used everywhere, and the tickets are old fashioned from a dispenser at the cash desk, rather like the kind cinemas used to issue. Then it is back upstairs to join another line for the elevators to the top.

Unfortunately there is an American family right behind me (yes, mom, dad + 2 kids!), who as well as complaining about having to queue keep knocking into my rucksack. Why do they have to get so near, and why can't they have patience. They even contemplate returning tomorrow. OK, it takes a while but given how busy the building is, some delay is not surprising. After passing through the metal detectors (installed after someone ran amok with a gun in the observation deck a few years ago) the first elevator takes us up to the 80th floor. Then it is time to join another line for the elevator up to the 86th floor. The second elevator is more modern than the first - the guide is right when it is described as rather rickety compared with the World Trade Center.

At last it is out on to the observation deck - if anything the view from the Empire State is more impressive than the World Trade Center: although a smaller building, the other skyscrapers of Midtown are close by and you can see the skyscrapers of Downtown in the distance. Time for some photos! I spend around half an hour at the top (it is a much colder day than when I was at the World Trade Center!) partly waiting for the sun to break from behind some clouds to try and get some better pictures. When it is time to leave I join the line for the elevator down, but those of us who don't mind walking down 6 flights take the stairs. There are still people who might have to wait 20 minutes for the elevator - must be Americans! (I did get some time to buy a couple of souvenirs from the shop at the top - probably overpriced but rather from here than a street corner!)

Then it is back to street level and I wander north looking for somewhere to have lunch. In one of the streets between Park and Madison Avenues I find 'Burger Heaven', a chain, and order a chilli burger - with fries and coleslaw. The usual enormous portion arrives - no wonder so many Americans are obese!

I travel further north returning to some of the streets I visited yesterday but seeing a lot of others I didn't travel along. Don't manage to buy anything at Niketown and then walk a few blocks up to where FAO Schwarz is with the intention of looking for a present for Grace. But there is a queue outside the building and along the street to get in! The sun is going down and my feet are telling me that it is time to head back to the hotel!

I walk along to 7th Avenue and Broadway, passing the preparations fixing up the Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center along the way. Then I come upon the Crowne Plaza hotel where Ian and Susan stayed last year - although close to a lot of the impressive buildings around 5th Avenue, it is also near a lot of the rubbish around Times Square. I walk down Broadway passing the tat that can be found at Times Square, and the long lines of people waiting to try and get cut price tickets for Broadway shows - thankfully I am not interested in getting involved in this slice of New York life.

After popping in to get some more slide film, I arrive back at Macy's and have a half-hearted attempt for some more present shopping. I was unsuccessful in trying to get another sports bag but luckily Foot Locker across the road came up trumps. Thank goodness for Starbucks across from the New Yorker as I picked up a coffee and a cookie before catching the last two quarters of a college football game on TV.

So what thoughts of the city so far? The traffic - constantly busy and the honking of horns means that it is never quiet. Add to that the odd siren from police and ambulance and the fact that some traffic will try to go through the red signal means that you have to keep your wits about you crossing the road! I still feel a bit unsure about right-turning traffic having to yield to pedestrians at the 'Walk' signal so I always try to make sure it does stop! I can't believe the number of stretch limos around town - they look unfeasibly long and it seems a miracle they can get round corners! The subway trains must only just be beneath the surface as they can be clearly heard as you walk around. Now that it has got a bit colder, steam has started to rise from the drains - another classic New York scene! I discovered what all the whistles being blown is all about - it is the doormen at hotels trying to attract the attention of taxi drivers! Good luck to them, it seems a difficult job to try and hail a cab, although I did see some people stop them on junctions and get in! There seems to be no end to the number of street vendors offering 'bargains' - watches, sweaters, bags - all for around $5 each. What is perhaps even more surprising are the crowds around some of them!

There is a big college football game on TV tonight (Florida v Florida State) and I consider getting some food delivered. However, I don't relish the prospect of stinking the room out with pizza or chinese food or whatever so I head to a nearby Italian restaurant mentioned in the hotel literature which is 2 blocks away. I have to negotiate crowds awaiting the 'Ratdog' concert at the next door venue (presumably a reasonable place as Youssou N'Dour is playing tomorrow night) with several people asking if I want a ticket. The football sounds a much better bet judging by the name of the band and the make up of the audience!

The meal is pretty mediocre but the entertainment provided by the other diners is much better - this being the US no-one is quiet! I learn that the couple at the next table seem to be trying to establish a restaurant in Peru and the Jewish (presumably this ethnic group given their discussion of Yiddish) group have members whose family are media types - one is an ESPN producer and another has been hired as an election analyst for CNN. Speaking of the election, the outcome seems to be as far away as ever (although it appears increasingly likely that Bush will emerge victorious), which seems bizarre for a country as advanced as the US - at home we are used to the process proceeding in an orderly fashion until it is complete.

At least I could get back to the hotel in time to see the last three-quarters of the game. At half-time they show pictures from the ESPNZone sports bar in Times Square - definitely a more lively venue to watch the game than here!

I've seen a number of British connections since I've been here - from the huge Harry Potter murals at the Warner Bros store to the appearance of Hetty Wainthrop on PBS to sidewalk adverts for the Naked Chef programme on the Food Channel (yes, there is a cable channel devoted to food - although it is not one of the 36 available in the hotel!). One of the stations is the New York cable news station (weather every 10 minutes!) which has an interesting mix of national news stories (the election), entertainment stories (Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones getting married at the Plaza Hotel) to the downright parochial (30 cars having their tyres slashed in one of the outer boroughs!). The advertising must be cheap given the dreadful local businesses being advertised.

Sunday 19 November

Decided to give the feet a bit of a rest today by taking a Circle Line boat trip around Manhattan. The weather was more overcast than it had been for any of the days I've been here - the hazy visibility was obvious from my hotel room view of Downtown this morning. There was a big queue at the hotel's 'Tick Tock' diner so I head out elsewhere seeking breakfast. As well as being overcast, it's a lot colder today, something which is immediately apparent when I step outside. I walk up 8th Avenue and when I turn into 42nd Street I walk past an Applebee's diner which I decide will do for breakfast. I go for the typical American staple of pancakes (with syrup of course!) and bacon, together with free coffee refills. I wasn't sure whether a woman at a nearby table was staring at me but when she gets up to leave I think she might have been - her boyfriend/husband was wearing the same jumper as I was! Tourists!

I go further along 42nd Street when I'm finished, crossing the bottom end of Times Square, and pop in for another look at Grand Central Terminal. Definitely worth seeing again! I go as far as 3rd Avenue before turning back, and sneak a look at the foyer of the Chrysler Building. As it's Sunday you need ID to get past the rope at the entrance but I did get to see the impressive entrance hall. On my way back west I wander up the steps of the Public Library - not open today. It is then a straight line along 42nd Street to get to Pier 83, the departure point for the Circle Line tours. There isn't much to see on this street, although I do pass the headquarters of the New York mounted police.

I arrive just after 1200, in plenty of time for the 1230 departure, although as this is the only full trip today there are plenty of people milling around. On board I choose a seat on the top deck at the back of the boat - not at the edge but there is plenty of room to take pictures. The boat heads off south, with the first photo opportunity not long afterwards for views of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. It is then past Downtown Manhattan and on to the Statue of Liberty, with the boat listing visibly as everyone rushes to the right hand side! There is plenty of time to get shots, and I even have time to change my film. Some stunning views of South Manhattan, with a helpful commentary by the guide making sure that we didn't miss any landmarks.

Under the Brooklyn Bridge gave a different perspective from being on top a few days ago! As the boat approached Midtown I asked the Welsh couple sitting next to me to take my photo with the Empire State Building in the background - the chap seemed to be a bit close when he took it so I've no idea how it will turn out! We then head up to unfamiliar territory, only so far seen on a map. The trip certainly gives a good impression of the size and scale of Manhattan. After passing Yankee Stadium the boat travels along the Harlem River which is surprisingly narrow. The guide points out the interstate I-95 on its way from Maine to Florida as we pass underneath - I'm sure that I have driven along this road in Florida and I must check this when I get home; that would be a bizarre connection!

The quiet area of Inwood Hill Park is pointed out and the boat then passes through a swing bridge carrying the Amtrak line before turning back into the Hudson River. Soon after we pass under the George Washington Bridge - this is the coldest part of the trip and it seems to be taking ages to return to Pier 83. A huge apartment development by Donald Trump on the site of an old railroad yard - which was the largest undeveloped area of Manhattan before work began - is pointed out. Just over two and three quarter hours after the tour began, the boat berths at the pier. I head back to 8th Avenue but don't stop at the New Yorker this time as I carry on for a block to the Madison Square Garden box office to collect my Knicks ticket. There are no problems - just goes to show how useful the internet is! - and I return to the hotel via Starbucks! Time for a quick bite to eat in the diner adjacent to the hotel - I don't want to be late for the game!

I was told to be at Madison Square Garden for 1915 but leave the hotel about half an hour before this time for the short walk to the venue so that I am in plenty of time. However, all this means is that I've got to hang around on the concourse for a little while. Eventually the waiting masses are allowed in and I take my seat. I am a little surprised at how gently sloped the raked seating is and I am a bit concerned that I won't have a good enough view - it turns out that the way the seating is arranged is generally OK and the odd time I struggle to see a certain part of the court I can switch to the overhead TV screen to see what is happening. It takes a while for the venue to fill up with most people arriving in the last 10-15 minutes - complete with pizza, hot dogs, popcorn and soda of course! The pre-game presentation is of a high standard and as usual the National Anthem is performed - tonight by 'Broadway star' Everett Bradley.

The game gets started, slowly at first, with the Knicks scoring slightly faster than the Warriors. I glance over to my left several times during the game when there are breaks in the play to see if I can see anyone famous court-side - either there are no A-list celebs present or I am too far away to recognise any of them! I am a little surprised at the lack of audience reaction during the game, although they are brought to life during an early time out in the first quarter when a fan who has emailed a competition entry got his chance to shoot from half-court - he scored and went home $50,000 richer! His shot was 'nothing but net' and resulted in everyone getting on their feet and cheering! Normally when these type of events take place the shot goes off with a prayer but I did notice the guy handling the ball confidently before his shot - but I suppose in the US everyone shoots hoops! The crowd is also entertained by the Knicks City Dancers, in a style that I couldn't really see being replicated by the Rockettes - much more Broadway than Meadowbank!

The Knicks gradually build up a lead, reaching 34-16 at one point, although the Warriors did get as close as 4 with a 16-2 run. Of course I was supporting the home team, but I was also hoping to see a competitive and exciting game and didn't really relish the idea of a whitewash. Half-time saw more entertainment, with a display of kung fu skills of all things. Another spurt sees the Knicks head into a larger lead again, with the Warriors playing catch up again. However, a score line of 48-44 is as close as the Warriors can get for the rest of the game. A combination of excellent defence from the Knicks and poor offence from the Warriors meant that Golden State struggled all game long. The Knicks shot well, with a number of threes, and clever ball movements meant they found the open players.

The announcer informed the crowd that the attendance was a sell out (although there were a few empty seats but I daresay that the tickets had actually been sold) making a record of sell out NBA games (beating the last time the Knicks played at home as it was already held by Madison Square Garden!). A number of the crowd started leaving in the last 4-5 minutes as they thought it was all over. The Warriors tried to make up the gap but it was always going to be a tough task and the Knicks ran out winners 88-71. I got back to the hotel in time to see the Knicks post game show on the Madison Square Garden cable channel - couldn't see myself in any of the highlights though!

Monday 20 November

Time to go home. It takes me a long time to get everything together this morning. I wonder whether everything will actually fit into the two bags, but with a bit of squeezing and re-arranging I manage to get both shut - not much room for anything else though! I have some pancakes, sausages, bacon and egg at the 'Tick Tock' diner before checking out. After waiting in line to do that, store my bags and book a seat on the airport bus ($19 compared with $43 in a car!) I head to Midtown. Before leaving the hotel I notice that there is a meeting of the science fiction writers of America in the evening - looks like I am getting out of town just in time!

I take the opportunity to do something I haven't done before - ride the subway! Not through concern about safety as I've enjoyed making the most of walking around the city. The subway is much more European than almost anything else in the US I've seen, and it looks well used. I only go a short distance (from 33rd Street to 59th Street on line 6) but some of the tight curves are noticeable. The reason for travelling to 59th Street was to take a look at New York's other big store - Bloomingdales. Less hectic and more refined than Macy's - with the classic New York lady shopper with coiffured hair and fur coat - although the range of items is similar. I visit some of the other shops in the area (one of the staff asks me about 'Trainspotting' when he finds out that I am from Scotland!) on my way down to FAO Schwarz. This time I can get in and pick up a plush toy for Grace. I am still on the look out for other gifts but time and ideas (and space!) are running out.

Since I am near the Chrysler Building I pop in to get a closer look after yesterday. It has perhaps the most impressive entrance hall of any of the 1930s buildings I've seen. I also have a quick wander into the New York Public Library which also has a fantastic hall at the entrance. Picking up copies of the Post and the News for reports of last night's ball game I am heading back to the hotel for my 1600 pick up for the airport bus. One more stop to see the General Post Office, situated one block away, and I can have a coffee at the hotel coffee shop before it is time to depart. New York is a very international city but it is amazing how much my ear has picked up on English and Scottish accents - perhaps it is just the places I've been but the Brits seem to be everywhere! The weather has turned a lot better than yesterday and although it started cold, by midday the sun had warmed things up a bit. Getting a bit warm for walking around. Particularly with what was to follow!

The anticipated gentle trip to JFK did not materialise. I was waiting inside the hotel foyer ready to go from 1545 and when there was no sign of the transfer bus by about 1615 I moved outside to stand on the street. I chatted to one of the doormen who told me what kind of bus to look out for but also, rather ominously, that they were often late. It was quite entertaining to watch the taxis, the private hire cars and the chartered airport transfer vehicles (it appears that Argentine Airlines use the hotel for their staff to stay in - the balding, tanned middle-aged male flight crew were quite a contrast (not spring chickens by any means!) stewardesses with their very short skirts!) all jockeying for position at the front door and holding up the 8th Avenue traffic. By about 1640 I decided enough was enough and walked 8 blocks up to the Port Authority Bus Terminal (where I had arrived on Wednesday) to catch the express bus to JFK. My bags seemed heavier than ever! Luckily there was a bus waiting to depart at 1700, although I overheard one of the other passengers stating that the journey time would be 1 hour 25 minutes! Check-in was 1900! Not much I could do about it now.

At the other pick up point at Grand Central Terminal when the tickets were checked I was told that my ticket was no good! Luckily there was time to jump off, buy the right kind of ticket from a machine (incidentally in the change it spewed out two $1 coins, the first time I had seen these rare items on my trip) and hop back on the bus without delay before it departed. It's a good thing there were plenty of other passengers needing their tickets checked. I was naïve enough to assume that the hotel were putting me on 'the' airport express service to JFK - I had to fork out another $13. Express was a bit of a misnomer, given that the service was leaving at rush hour! It started off not too badly heading through the Queens - Midtown Tunnel but by the time the bus got on to I-495 traffic was moving at a crawl. It was the same when we turned south on to I-678 - but at least we kept moving most of the time, rarely actually stopping. The limits of JFK airport were reached at 1810, although the journey was to continue for another 20-25 minutes as we visited all the other terminals first (at least the Rough Guide had prepared me for that!). There was one awkward moment when a motorist stopped immediately in front of the bus blocking the entrance to Terminal 4E, although the driver just kept the horn pressed continually until he moved - it did take a couple of minutes, however!

Check-in was extremely swift and the process was completed well in advance of the nominal deadline, affording plenty of opportunity to visit the duty free shop (some cheesy Big Apple chocolates to take in to the office!) and grab a cup of coffee. I checked that they were serving dinner on the flight so I'll not spend any more dollars now - about $60 to take back, with some coins (and of course lots of credit card receipts!). I was able to find a stool looking out to the gates and it appears to have been raining judging by the wet tarmac. I've already seen one BA 747 taxi-ing for departure - this is a busy time for JFK with eastbound transatlantic departures pretty frequent, taking advantage of the time difference to arrive tomorrow morning. BA has an hourly service for a few hours! There are arrivals too - another BA 747 is taxi-ing in as I write this. I can also see the rain as it passes the airport lights. I am getting a superb view of the 747 as it arrives at the gate just outside where I am sitting. I get a chance to sit and read before boarding and move to the area around the departure gate - from here the plane is visible. It is named Whale Rider (bizarre!) and, unlike the outbound plane, is in the new BA livery, although from where I am sitting I can't see what strange tail fin design there is.

One interesting point about transport to JFK is that they are currently building a monorail - presumably to Manhattan. This is sorely needed - I suppose the US must be one of the few countries where people tolerate such poor public transport links to the airport. Even Edinburgh with its Greenway is better!

I had the choice of an aisle or window seat and took the aisle option to give me a bit more room - as it will be dark when we are leaving there may not be much to see anyway. I notice that the speed at take off is only 150 mph - I hadn't appreciated how slow a jet has to be travelling to get the necessary lift. Dinner is served shortly after departure and I choose the beef option - it is quite good, I suppose because it would have been sourced in the US! I watch the film X Men which is one of the available entertainment channels. By the time it is finished it is 0000 New York time, or 0500 GMT.

Tuesday 21 November

After the film I try to get a bit of sleep, but only really succeed in dozing. I have the entertainment channel switched to the flight data information so that when I wake up I can see how far there is to go. I must have had some sleep because I was awakened by the stewardess saying tea or coffee. Time for the continental breakfast! Fruit juice, corn flakes, fresh fruit salad and coffee is a light wake up call. It is around 0745 and we are one hour away from Heathrow. The debris is cleared away quickly and the captain makes an announcement that because of air traffic delays we will be held for no more than 10 minutes. ETA is now around 0900. It is fascinating to watch the jumbo's progress on the map on the screen in front of me - we undertake a loop over Surrey near the M25 before heading towards Greenwich but not quite getting there as we turned back towards Heathrow near Bromley. We do land after this leg - not as smooth as the landing at JFK, which was one of the most gentle aircraft landings I've experienced - but there are more delays as we have to cross the other runway, and then wait for a tractor to pull us on to the stand - and then we find that there is another aircraft already occupying our stand! Eventually we come to a stand just after 0930, which I suppose isn't too bad given that we didn't actually take off from JFK until 2150, 50 minutes late.

There is the usual delay in getting off and retrieving baggage before I can make my way to the Underground station. I just miss one service (this might have been important!) but another one arrives 4 minutes later. I get to Kings Cross (after not quite nodding off on each stretch of the journey!) at 1132, just 2 minutes after a service to Leeds has departed! There is still the landslip problem on the ECML (although a notice at Kings Cross advises that through trains will be restored tomorrow - typical!) so I will have to wait almost an hour for the next northbound service. I can't see why GNER couldn't operate a more frequent Kings Cross - Doncaster shuttle service as there are plenty of spare trains at the Cross and at Bounds Green. I grab a sandwich and coffee (not really what I would describe as coffee given what I've been used to!) before being able to board the train half an hour before departure.

We leave on time and heading out of London I notice the Alexandra Palace perched on a hillside on the west side of the line. I've never noticed it before, which is perhaps not surprising given that I don't often travel on this stretch of line during daylight. The train swings on to the down slow at Potters Bar, with the up and down fast lines closed. The aftermath of the Hatfield accident is partially visible, although the running lines have been fully replaced. The reason for the closure is work north of Hatfield with track maintenance gangs swarming about in between the two slow lines. Further deviation on to the slow line north of Stevenage - with the bizarre result that we overtake a northbound Class 365 unit on the fast line! By the time we depart Peterborough we are already 11 minutes behind the revised schedule, and now I discover that Mark'n'Lard aren't even on today!

We eventually pull into Doncaster at 1525 (including something like a 5-6 mile 20 mph permanent way restriction south of Retford). It was then a quick transfer under the tracks to platform 1 for the 1533 service to Edinburgh. The train is able to traverse the section of the ECML to York, albeit with a speed restriction south of Temple Hirst Junction. There is still plenty of water lying on the ground in this neck of the woods. The weather is miserable with thick fog, a change from the light cloud and broken sunshine when we left London.

By the time we reach Durham the weather has cheered up a bit; a pity I can't say the same about the surly couple opposite who hardly speak to one another and when they do they are on the point of arguing. Enjoy one of the GNER bacon and tomato toasties - a welcome addition to the buffet fare but not a patch on the cheese toasties that were prepared to order in the initial days of HST operation (they daren't so much as let catering staff touch slices of bread these days!). Several signal delays on the stretch between Newcastle and Edinburgh which add around 20 minutes to the already extended schedule.