Just America Blog
New legislation in the State of Florida requires that all UK drivers renting cars in the state must present a valid International Driving Permit (IDP) issued in their country of residence when collecting the car. This is in addition to the normal UK driving licence which should also be presented. IDP’s can be obtained from the AA, RAC and the Post Office. The Post Office charge £5.50 for an IDP valid for one year, and this can be produced on the spot if the driver/s go in person. Check out the Post Office website for details.
Lots of hard work over the last couple of months, but it is worth it. The Just America website is almost completely updated for 2013.
New tours include a ‘California Coast By Train’ tour – 14 nights/15-days from San Francisco to San Diego including Santa Barbara and Los Angeles – great tour if you don’t want to drive, and lots of optional excursions if you want to explore Yosemite, Monterey etc.
We have also added a ‘Trans Canada ByRail’ tour from Toronto (with a side trip to Niagara Falls), through Winnipeg, Jasper, the Icefields Parkway, Banff, then through the Rockies on the famous Rocky Mountaineer to Vancouver and Victoria – wow what a trip!
We left Bryce Canyon City after a great buffet breakfast at the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand and after topping up with gas headed west along highway 12. The short journey to Zion National Park meant we could take it easy and marvel at the scenery. As we joined highway 9 at Mt Carmel Junction I remembered that this was where many of the great western TV series of the 50′s and 60′s were filmed. The Lone Ranger, Champion the Wonder Horse and many others used the stunning scenery of southern Utah as their backdrop. I blame many of these classic western series for getting me hooked on the Wild West from an early age.
Shortly after entering Zion National Park at the east entrance, the road descends into the canyon through a couple of tunnels, the longest of which is just over a mile. The tunnels were excavated in the late 1920′s by teams digging from both ends, unfortunately they miscalculated and it was discovered that the two tunnels would not meet in a straight line. A bend in the road was required – no big deal today – but the chief engineer was so upset by his error he sadly committed suicide. As you come through the long tunnel the canyon opens up before you and you enjoy incredible views of the colourful cliffs as you descend through a series of switchbacks down to the canyon floor.
Visitors to the park can exit the park at the south entrance at the town of Springdale, where the park’s shuttle bus terminus is located and after parking at the terminus hop on the excellent park shuttle back into the park. Private vehicles are not permitted in the park during the summer months. The shuttle stops at all of the major park features along the valley floor and visitors can then take trails, relax by the Virgin River or walk between the shuttle stops. We decided to head for our hotel – way too early to check in, but we were able to dump the car and then take the Springdale town shuttle to the terminus and pick up the park shuttle. The shuttles are all free, frequent and the drivers are all very knowledgeable.
We rode the park shuttle right to the end of the route – the Temple of Sinewava – and then walked a mile or so along the trail, stopping to bathe our feet in the refreshingly cool river. Bye the way, the Temple of Sinewava is not actually a temple, just a rock formation. The American’s seem obsessed with naming every rock, cliff and pebble in their parks!
I have been fortunate to have visited almost all of the US national parks, and Zion is definitely in my top five. The cooler, greener climate and scenery of Zion is a welcome relief after the dry redrock country we have passed through. I can imagine how amazing this place must have been before the European settlers first visited here in the 1860′s, a true ‘Garden of Eden’
We had to dash back to the hotel – well on the slow moving shuttle you don’t dash anywhere – as we had a meeting and 4 x 4 tour this evening. The Majestic View Lodge is a lovely hotel on the southern edge of Springdale. As it’s name implies, the views are stunning and the dining room takes full advantage of the view with a large picture window. A quick check-in, change and we’re off to our meeting with the nice people of the Zion Adventure Company.
Our 4 x 4 tour – in a comfortable, high wheeled vehicle with sprung seats, was wonderful. We explored parts of Springdale and the neighbouring town of Rockville before heading to one of my favourite spots – Grafton Ghost Town. It was here in the late 1960′s that part of the movie ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ was filmed. The rugged red rocks of Zion and the old school house and cabins of this picturesque ghost town were the backdrop to the ‘Raindrops keep failing on my head’ sequence. I have visited Grafton several times over the last 30+ years and on several visits it was depressing to see the damage inflicted upon the place by mindless vandalism. Some of the cabins, including Butch Cassidy’s cabin – built by the movie company – have long since disappeared, but a couple still remain, thanks to the local history group and volunteers. The small grave yard has been preserved and several of the grave markers hint at the hard life faced by the Mormon pioneers in the 1860′s, several were killed by indians.
Our tour turned off the relatively smooth road onto boulder-strewn animal trails as we climbed high into the mountains above Grafton. Our guides pointed out the local towns, educated us on the wildlife, geology and flora before we descended the precipitous trails and returned to Springdale. A wonderful meal at the local hotspot – Oscars – capped off a great day. I think I could live in Springdale, it is a vibrant little town surrounded by amazing scenery and is a very ‘happening’ place.
It was an effort to tear ourselves away from the dining room of the Majestic View Lodge, the great breakfast and amazing views meant we lingered longer than we should given our schedule. We checked out and set out on the final leg of our road trip – the short drive to Las Vegas. We picked up an hour’s time difference between Utah and Nevada and made great time. We were in a bit of a hurry as we wanted to watch the Champions League Final which was due to kick off at 11am Las Vegas time.
I chose the Monte Carlo Hotel in Las Vegas for two reasons, one, it is a good hotel which Just America has used since it opened, and two, it has an excellent sports bar, just right for watching football. We arrived, parked in the hotel’s free car park and headed straight for the bar. The bar was just opening and we managed to get prime seats directly in front of the huge screen! Life continued to improve when two lovely ladies promoting Heineken (sponsors of the Champions League) gave us two free sample pints.
After the game, we had a swim and then drove along the strip as the sun went down and the lights came on. Love it or hate it, Vegas has to be seen to be believed! Alex was determined to try the rides at the top of the Statosphere Tower – a roller coaster, sling-shot etc., all hundreds of feet off the ground, so we drove to the ‘Strat’ and he did his thing and loved it. I meanwhile waited downstairs in the casino – not gambling, but watching the various wedding parties, drunks and tourists as they successfully lost their money, sad really.
Our final morning and Alex was off to the pool to top up his sun tan. I went shopping the Premium Outlets just along the road near the airport. I then took a drive around Las Vegas – Sunday morning is a great time to drive around the strip – and reaquainted myself with the area. I popped in to a few of the hotels we use including some of the newer hotels that I have not been to before.
Then it is was off to the car rental station, sadly leave the car (1415 miles since Phoenix) and check in for the flight. British Airways are moving to a brand new terminal at Las Vegas airport this summer so the experience for passengers should be more pleasant than the old terminal we had to use. The flight was on time and the inflight entertainment was excellent and helped to pass the time on the overnight flight to Heathrow.
Time to reflect on a great trip. Good on several different levels, not least a bit of good father/son bonding, but it was also good to know that Just America is using the best hotels in the right places. The stunning scenery from day one in Phoenix right through Arizona and Utah, the fabulous national parks and great people we met along the way made this a trip with memories to treasure forever and I encourage everyone to do something similar if they possibly can. Just America is always here to help!
I always have a problem leaving Moab, it is such a great little town and there is so much to do. Whenever I leave I regret not having done this or that, and wondering how long it will be until I get back. This time I wish we had done Tag A Long Expeditions’ Arches National Park trip. Although Alex and I had a wonderful evening in Arches, and hiked to Delicate Arch, I know we missed many of the park’s best features. Two-nights/one-day in Moab is simply not enough – I normally recommend three or four nights to my clients, but on the sort of whistle-stop trip we have to do on these inspection trips time is too short.
We head north out of Moab, over the Colorado River and on to the little town of Green River. Quick stop for gas and then on to Capitol Reef National Park. The highway cuts across the park, so there is no entrance fee, but if you want to divert and see more of the park then you pay the fee, or show your national park pass. If we had had more time we would have explored more of Capitol Reef and possibly taken a tour with a guide out of the town of Torrey. We stopped for a look at the Best Western Capitol Reef, just outside of Torrey. Nice hotel, very clean and handy for the national park – good to know, once again, that Just America is using the best hotel in the area.
After Torrey it was Alex’s turn to educate me with his choice of more up-to-date music. I think he was tiring of my Rod Stewart, Eagles and Fleetwood Mac mix, so we had JZ, Rihanna etc., for the next 100 miles, not quite so suited to the scenery in my opinion, but we are nothing if not democratic in this car!
A word about the car. We had an Alamo Fullsize 4-door (FCAR) and it turned out to be a huge Chrysler Dodge Charger. I say huge because the vehicle was long, wide and comfortable. It also had all the whistles and bells you come to expect of a modern car. USB, AUX points, power sockets, great entertainment/radio display (you can see your IPOD displayed on the main screen) and the speakers were great. The downside was the lack of luggage space. I spend a lot of my time trying to convince clients that although a car can comfortably accommodate four or five passengers, there is no way you will get four or five suitcases in the boot (trunk). Alex and I had a medium size suitcase each and they only just fitted in the boot, with very little space for small items of hand luggage. Our cooler box/ice chest was strapped in on the back seat. Quite simply, three suitcases would not have fitted, and on long journeys it is not good to have suitcases in the passenger compartment. Be warned – always think carefully about your luggage and the car’s ability to accommodate it.
Shortly after Torrey we turn south on to Utah’s famed highway 12. Just when you think that Utah has displayed it’s best scenery, it all gets even better! This lovely scenic highway takes us south and then west to Tropic before our destination today – Bryce Canyon City. At Cannonville I am tempted to divert on the paved road to Kodachrome Basin State Park. The colour and beauty of the area prompted a 1948 National Geographic Society expedition to name the area after the popular colour film. I came through here about 10 years ago and vowed to return, but again lack of time means we have to push on, but I recommend that other travellers with a more sensible itinerary take the 9-mile detour.
The Bryce Canyon City conjours up a vision of a major town, or city. In fact this community at the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park, is a collection of hotels, motels, gas station, campground and a couple of food outlets. City it ain’t. But it is handy and does the job for visitors to the park. There is a rodeo on most nights during the summer months, a selection of jeep tours, horse-riding and balloon trips. We stayed at the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel and although the dining room was closed for dinner, we enjoyed our stay here, very handy and comfortable.
After checking in, we headed for the park and drove to the furthest overlook – Rainbow Point, and then slowly worked our way back to the entrance station. We stopped and enjoyed the sunset at Sunset Point. The park was quiet and we were virtually on our own as the sun’s slanting rays constantly changed the hues on the amazing colourful rock formations. We must have spent a couple of hours just enjoying the tranquility and stunning scenery, another trip highlight!
If you only have a limited time in the park, perhaps you are just dropping in en route to Zion etc., the I recommend that you make a stop at Bryce Point, one of the best overlooks in the park, and close to the entrance.
As the last of the sun’s rays faded we headed out of the park watched by a few grazing elk. As the dining room at the Bryce Grand was closed for dinner, we sampled the menu at it’s sister hotel, the Best Western Ruby’s Inn. I must say the dinner buffet was excellent and at $18 per person it was super value – great salad bar, hot entrees and a dessert bar. A stroll around the huge gift store at Ruby’s Inn, which sells everything from camping supplies to groceries, books to jewelry, entertained us until bed time.
As we cross from Arizona into Utah at Monument Valley, I am reminded just what an amazing state Utah is. With five national parks and some of the most spectacular scenery in the United States, Utah constantly exceeds expectations and leaves the traveller completely out of superlatives.
I am continuing my week-long road trip with my son, Alex. Our aim is to check out the hotels we use in the Just America self-drive tours and to refresh our knowledge of this great state. So far we have travelled from Phoenix, through Sedona, Tuba City and Monument Valley. We are now headed into eastern Utah and the town of Moab.
One of the purchases we made in Phoenix was an ice chest. It only cost a few bucks ($18 I think), but already it has proved invaluable. We stocked up at Safeways in Scottsdale with soft drinks, fruit and snacks, chucked in a bag of ice cubes and hey ho we have cool drinks whenever we want them. With temperatures over 100-degrees F (35c) and on a tight schedule, stopping at diners every few miles would be time consuming and expensive, so having the ‘cocktail bar’ on the back seat is very handy.
We arrive in Moab in the late afternoon of Tuesday and check in to the Aarchway Inn at the north end of town. Just America has used this property for several years and we always receive good reports. After checking in, its time to hit the pool – stopping to stick the dirty laundry into the washing machine on the way. An hour to enjoy the pool before we change for the evening and our first excursion – Canyonlands By Night, a dinner followed by a twilight jetboat cruise on the Colorado River.
The dinner was great, a buffet of western delights – pork, beef, beans, potatoes and salad. Then we board the large jetboat (about 60 passengers) and cruise gently along the Colorado River. Or guide points out various rock formations, birds and manmade features, and then, after dark the road crew illuminate the towering canyon walls and the commentry continues. Frankly the best bit was when the lights were turned off, the engine cut and we drifted and enjoyed the incredible night sky. Man can never beat nature’s best efforts!
The next day is a busy one. I get to check out Moab’s hotels, while Alex enjoys a half-day jetboat ride courtesy of Tag A Long Expeditions. We have worked with ‘Tag’ for many years and I have done several jetboat and raft trips, so it was only right that Alex has his turn.
I looked at several hotels and B & B’s in Moab and was very impressed with the lovely Red Cliffs Lodge about 14 miles out of town, right on the Colorado River. Although it is a bit far out of town, Red Cliffs is well worth the commute. Many western movies were made here and there is a great little museum located in the basement of the hotel lobby. The rooms and restaurant are excellent, and the addition of a winery and winetasting facility helped to make this a favourite of mine. Sadly, as I was driving, I had to restrict my wine-tasting to a small sip, but I will return for further investigation at some point.
At lunch time, I meet up with Alex who had enjoyed his jetboating. Along with Alex’s fellow jetboaters, and a few other travellers, we board two 4 x 4′s and head out onto the rugged trails of Canyonlands National Park. There is absolutely no way anyone in a normal rental car could travel these roads. The precipitous drops, towering and overhanging cliffs and so called ‘roads’ are more suited to mountain goats than man-made transports. I have great admiration for our driver/guides, they did a wonderful drive and their skill and knowledge was invaluable. We experienced some of the most remote and dramatic scenery in the west, we saw lots of wildlife, a movie set (for the new Johnny Depp move ‘The Lone Ranger’) and I feel as though I have completed a PHD in geology!
Arriving back in Moab around 5pm, we decided to head straight for Arches National Park. I have been here a couple of times, but never seen ‘Delicate Arch’ one of the parks icons. The timing was great. We drove the 30 minutes to the parking area below the arch, climbed the three-mile trail and arrived in time to enjoy the sunset. This was a highlight of our trip and although the trail was hard going, the views were more than worth it.
The drive out of Arches, with our music playing, the setting sun striking the colourful rock formations is a memory I will treasure forever. Dinner in a fine Mexican restaurant in Moab capped off a great day.
More to follow shortly….
Arrived in Phoenix to do some hotel inspections in Scottsdale. Great flight with BA from Heathrow non-stop to Phoenix, I do love terminal 5 at Heathrow, so slick, clean and lots of shops. Although it is a long flight 10 hours+ the excellent inflight entertainment and cabin crew help to pass the time. Arrived reasonably fresh and raring to go. Like the car rental center at Phoenix airport, far better to have all the car rental companys in one building and all sharing the same courtesy shuttles.
Managed to find the Cottonwoods Resort on North Scottsdale Road without too much trouble, nice resort but a major effort to find my room – the site is huge. Next morning, Sunday, up early with jetlag so took a drive around to familiarise myself with Scottsdale, been a while since I was last in town. Hasn’t changed too much, still lots of stunning resort hotels, golf courses, shopping and restaurants. I managed ten hotel inspections by mid-afternoon each hotel seemed to be better than the last, and it is is comforting to know that we are spot on with our hotel recommendations. Dashed down to Arizona Mills shopping mall in the late afternoon. The rate of exchange might not be as good as it was a couple of years ago, but America is still a great place to shop. The lower prices, great sales, excellent quality make shopping a pleasure. So stocked up on shirts, shorts, shoes and feel ready for the big road trip ahead. Just time for a swim in the Cottonwood’s lovely pool before meeting my son Alex who was arriving late into Phoenix after a few days in Chicago and Milwaukee.
Monday: Had breakfast with Alex at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn, one of my favourite hotels. Great breakfast buffet and we dined on the patio in a shady spot as the temperature rose to over 100-degrees F (35c). Skyped the office – made them very envious – before leaving the Marriott and embarking on our week long road trip of Arizona and Utah.
Stopped in Sedona between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon, and did some hotel inspections there. Again, I concluded we are using the best hotels in town and I won’t be recommending that make any changes. This is a great little town, surrounded by red rock cliffs, and home to the wonderful Pink Jeep Tours! Sadly, we didn’t have much time to spend in Sedona, so after a quick lunch we moved on to the Grand Canyon. Passing though Flagstaff and a mile or so of historic Route 66, we arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. No matter how many times I been to the Canyon, the site of this amazing place just knock me sideways! Alex and I spend a couple of hours stopping at various overlooks on the East Rim Drive. The sun was beginning to go down and the light was changing rapidly. The final section of our drive was to Tuba City on the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation. The drive through the stunning desert scenery with the sun’s rays striking the pink sandstone cliffs and painted desert was very special, the Eagles playing Hotel California on the car’s excellent stereo just capped it off. There is a one-hour time difference en route which is wierd and meant we arrived with just enough time to eat at the Hogan Restaurant (next to the Quality Inn), great mexican food!
On the road early on Tuesday morning, heading for Monument Valley and Moab today. Arrived at The View Hotel in Monument Valley at 10.30 – right on time for our hotel inspection. This is a relatively new property and I hadn’t seen it before. It is a beauty! The views are amazing and I defy anyone not to linger for hours in the restaurant which has a 180-degree view over the valley. Dragged ourselves away from The View and drove the four miles to Gouldings Lodge. This was the original hotel in the Valley, founded in the early 1900′s. It was here that a young John Wayne and movie director John Ford made many western movies in the 1930′s and ’40′s. Gouldings Lodge is great place to stay, and there is an interesting little museum with a section devoted to the movies made in the Valley. There are several great tours of Monument Valley operated by Gouldings Tours and although we didn’t have time on this trip, we have both enjoyed Goulding’s tours in the past. As most of the valley is ‘off road’ and this invalidates your rental car contract, taking a tour is a must if you want to see the best features of the valley.
And so on to Utah…. more to follow.
Two of us from the office have just come back from a whistle-stop trip to Boston and Cape Cod – as part of our regular visits to the US to keep up to date. We arrived early evening on Friday and managed to retrieve our bags, clear immigration and arrive at our hotel by taxi within half an hour of landing!! Is that a record?? We were staying in the Midtown Hotel, in the funky Back Bay area which is a real mix of Brownstone homes, restaurants, hotels, the Prudential Center and Copley Place shopping malls and shops on Newbury and Boylston Streets. The Red-Sox were playing when we were there so their fans were adding to the mix! The Midtown is a good standard ”no frills” hotel with clean and comfortable rooms and very helpful and friendly staff.
Saturday morning and we were awake early; breakfast at the local “Thornton’s Cafe” then off to pick up the “Duck Tour” of the city. Duck Tours use converted WW2 Amphibian Vehicles – each one decorated in a different colour . You can’t miss them around the city! We toured the historic sites of the city with the usual running commentary from the driver being a mix of many interesting facts and figures and corny jokes! The vehicle then leaves the roads and goes onto the Charles River which gives you a different view of the city! An hour and a half later and we are back where we started – at the Prudential Centre. A quick dash to the loo to beat the queues (or “lines” as they say in the US) and then to Boylston Street, specifically the Apple shop where my colleague bought an Ipad for quite a lot less than it is at home! Boston is a very walkable city – in fact it is known as ”the walking city”. A walk from the Prudential Center up to Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market took about half an hour, along bustling Boylston Street and past the historic Boston Common. ( On another occasion we took the “T” subway system and did the same route in about 5 minutes for $2.00. ) Fanueil Hall was our next stop – walking up and down the aisles trying to decide between the multitude of food outlets offering just about every food type imaginable! There was a huge cross section of street entertainment happening all around us…from men doing very dangerous looking stunts with a ladder and a rope…to enactment of the revolutionary years… a very pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon!
Sunday morning and we were booked to go the the premium outlet shops at Wrentham. The driver picked us up at our hotel on time and after a couple of stops at other hotels we were on our way. As always with outlet malls, it is pot luck as to what you are going to find…but we both did quite well and more than recouped the cost of the trip ($37.00 each, bookable at the hotel)!!
Monday morning and we had a long list of appointments to look round the hotels we use. Things change so quickly in the hotel industry so we like to try and keep on top so we can let our clients have the latest info! We look at the room decor and size, the facilities on offer as well as general ambience, value for money and location!
We then drove for about 90 minutes to Hyannis and the Holiday Inn there which was our base on Cape Cod for a couple of nights. It is a standard hotel just just off the freeway but a good base if you have a car and want value for money. Cape Cod is the quintessential New England destination..picturesque little towns with character and individual shops and houses and inns in the pastel, yellows, blues and creams that you associate with the area! Bustling harbors offering boat trips, whale-watching, trips to the romatic sounding Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The National Seashore is incredibly beautiful and unspoilt with miles of golden beaches and tufted sand dunes. More hotel and inn inspections…the length and breadth of the Cape – from Falmouth to Provincetown..each with something unique to offer. We had a fab seafood lunch in the highly recommended Fanizzis Restaurant in the heart of Provincetown with spectacular views of Cape Cod Bay. You feel like you are a million miles from the hustle and bustle of everyday life…. Sadly the days went too quickly and we were soon on our way back to Boston and our flight home!
Rosy and Alex
Time to pause for breath after a busy few months. The first few months of the new year are always busy, it’s funny how people’s thoughts turn to holidays once Christmas is out of the way. Spring 2012 is however not as busy as it should be and we believe that the Euros (football), the Jubliee and the Olympics are helping to keep people in the UK this year. However as the rain falls steadily this last week, we see an increase in enquiries and bookings as the ‘staycation’ begins to lose appeal. We expect a rush of last minute bookings once the summer’s festivities are over. New England and California currently top the destination charts with the American Rockies (Colorado/South Dakota/Wyoming) and the Grand Canyon (Arizona/Utah/Nevada) region following closely behind.
We’re all getting ready for some quick inspection visits – two of us are heading to Boston and Cape Cod to check out hotels and to refresh our knowledge of the destinations. Another couple of our staff are doing a mad dash through the southwest USA - Scottsdale, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Moab, Bryce, Zion and Las Vegas – all in a week and with over 40 hotel inspections along the way! Who ever said travel was glamorous!
A cautionary note: We had a client recently who is all booked to travel later this year, who contacted us a couple of weeks ago to say he had been arrested outside a football stadium in the UK when he tried to sell a spare ticket for the match. Having been arrested he was ineligible to enter the USA on the Visa Waiver Programme and he had to go through the awful and expensive process of applying for a US Visa. About £90 later, plus a day off work to appear in person at an appointment at the US Embassy in London, plus a lot of worry, he managed to get his visa. Please be warned – even the most minor offenses require a visa application if you have been arrested!
A brief visit to New York last week made me appreciate just what a great short break destination this wonderful city is. It is amazing just how much you can do in four days.
Travelling with my 19 year old shopaholic son (Alex) who had been saving for months, was interesting and hitting the outlet mall and designer shops of Manhattan was his main focus. Having been to New York before this teen shopper was slightly less interested in the major sites and definitely not keen to visit any museums and galleries.
My main purpose was to visit some of the hotels we feature, do a little shopping and take in some of the lesser known attractions. I have been to New York many times over the last 30 plus years and done most of the major sites, so the Statue of Liberty, Lincoln Center and the major museums did not feature on this itinerary. Shopping is always good value in the US and a trip to the Woodbury Common outlet shops on day two reinforced this. At Bass shoes I managed to get three pairs of shoes for the price of one pair – £84.00 for three great pairs of shoes! The rate of exchange was a very reasonable $1.61 to the Pound on my credit card. Alex struggled back onto the bus to Manhattan clutching several bags containing an assortment of designer shirts, jeans etc from the likes of Ralph Lauren, Armani and Lacoste – unbelievable bargains.
We parted company on day 3 as Alex started his assault on the Manhattan shops and I took off for Greenwich Village. I had heard of a wonderful walking tour of Greenwich – a food tour – escorted by a local expert. I met my fellow foodies at Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker Street and for the next three hours we ambled through this fascinating neighbourhood visiting some ten restaurants and delis, sampling everything from olive oil to pizza, cheese to ravioli. The samples were substantial and provided us with a hefty mobile lunch and well as informing us about the manufacture of the food. New Yorkers are passionate about their food and those visitors to the city who complain that you can’t get a healthy meal in New York really haven’t done their homework. Local New Yorkers shop differently to us. Instead of doing their weekly shop in a major supermarket, driving in and loading up the car with groceries, the residents of New York shop on a daily basis and eat out a lot more. It is a bit like food shopping was in the UK before the advent of mega supermarkets. So there are small specialist shops – such as Amy’s Bread, Murray’s Cheese, Mediterranean Food Merchants etc. on every street, all experts in their chosen speciality and keen to stress the quality of their food and its ingredients. We learnt a lot about olive oil, we met Joe – founder of Joe’s Pizza – one of the most famous pizzerias in New York (his shop has featured in several movies), we met Lydia ‘the Cuban Grandma you never had’ at her wonderful, but tiny, Cuban restaurant – “Little Havana”. Interspersed with this culinary grazing we learnt a lot about the architecture and history of Greenwich Village and came away pleasantly educated and well fed. This is a tour I would heartily recommend to anyone visiting New York, a real eye-opener and tummy filler! Contact Just America for details.
My next stop was the Tenement Museum. Having recently watch Dan Snow’s excellent TV series ‘Filthy Cities’ I was interested to see the programme on New York prior to my visit. In it, Dan visited the Tenement Museum and I decided it was somewhere I just had to check out. The museum is housed in one of the old tenements at 97 Orchard Street in the lower east side of Manhattan. The building had been boarded up and abandoned for over 50 years before the museum’s founders Ruth Abram and Anita Jacobson discovered this ‘time capsule’. They set about telling the stories of the building’s occupants who lived here between the 1860’s and the 1930’s, extremely poor immigrants from Ireland and Eastern Europe who endured the most incredible poverty and appalling living conditions. There are several escorted tours, each telling the story of a different family. My tour – the Moore’s Tour – told the story of the Moore family who escaped the Irish potato famine of the mid-1800s and who immigrated to New York and lived at 97 Orchard Street for a year. We walked through the tiny yard where four wooden privies were shared by the occupants of the eight over crowded apartments and the staff and customers of the tavern on the ground floor. Outbreaks of various diseases, malnutrition and hard labour contributed to the low life expectancy and the Moores suffered along with their neighbours. During their short stay at 97 Orchard Street the Moores lost their youngest child and the parlour of their former home is set out as it would have been on the day of the young girl’s funeral. The Tenement Museum’s building has been left in its dilapidated state except for essential maintenance and safety concerns. How anyone survived the squalor and malnutrition of these hard times is difficult to understand, but the museum is a ‘must do’ on anyone’s itinerary and it provides a fascinating glimpse into New York’s history. Contact Just America for details.
The GrayLine of New York double-decker sightseeing tour was again very useful. This hop- on/hop-off service operates several loops and we used the lower Manhattan loop several times during our stay. Boarding from our hotel in Times Square we headed south to Greenwich Village, hopped off for breakfast at a great diner, reboarded the bus, enjoyed the commentary by the tour director, hopped off again at Battery Park, took the Staten Island Ferry (free) for the 50 minute return cruise across New York harbour, jumped on the bus again – but couldn’t understand the heavy accent of the tour director, so got off at the next shop (South Street Seaport) had lunch and boarded another bus – this time with a very knowledgeable and funny tour director – and rode the bus past the UN Building to Central Park enjoying the sunny weather on the open top deck all the way.
A quick visit to the Empire State Building on our final morning when the skies had cleared and visibility was over 50 miles provided the perfect finale to our break. All that was left to do was a leisurely picnic in Bryant Park with food supplies from a local deli – New York’s best bargain – and then the shuttle to the airport. After four full days of shopping, sightseeing and hotel inspections we boarded the BA flight back to Heathrow, tired, blistered and broke, but with more happy memories of a wonderful city.
Call us at Just America and let us design a short break to New York for you and your friends or family.
Wow, the new year has got off to a fantasic start! It is odd that the whole world seems to suddenly think ‘holidays’ as soon as January arrives and there is a sudden scramble to book that all important summer holiday. California tops the destination charts at the moment – well it does have everything – with the American Rockies (Colorado/Wyoming/South Dakota/Montana) coming a close second with our new Extended Trails West self-drive tour proving very popular.
It is also interesting (and very frustrating) how some people approach booking there holiday. We often get the briefest of emails – ten words or less – asking us to produce a honeymoon itinerary with five destinations; a multi centre holiday with 15 hotels or more – yet no mention of how many people are travelling, what standard of hotels, departure airport etc. Do people serious expect us to provide ‘the holiday of a lifetime’ from a two line email!! When we seek more information we often get the response – ‘well you’re the experts, you tell us’. We might be the experts, but we are not psychic! Please, if you want us to provide you with a price quotation , or itinerary suggestion, then let us know what you want, or better still call us and have chat. A five minute phone call can make all the difference and allows us to more accurately assess what you want and thus helps us get the itinerary and costing correct. We are fully prepared to spend hours providing various permutations, itineraries etc, but we need our enthusiasm to be at least matched by the customer. Okay, rant over…
The airline seat sales are just about over – for now. We have no idea if the special offer fares with the major airlines will be extended past the current 25th Jan deadline – so if you have had a price from us in the last few days it might be worth getting the flights booked before next Tuesday. Flight availability for those key peak season dates, particularly end of July and throughout August, is very limited and will not get better, so if you don’t want to lose out and have to pay more, then get booking now.
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