September 18th 2004 – Manchester – New York
5:30 am in a B&B close to Manchester Airport. I was awake already so there was no need to worry about oversleeping. My host hadn’t been too enthusiastic about taking me at 6:30 am but he did turn up and, by 7:30 I was arriving at Manchester Airport for my flight to New York.
The flight was bumpy and we arrived through grey clouds and rain. There was an enormous queue through immigration and customs. This is a recurring theme, it seems, of holidays in the US. My son-in-law was once detained by immigration officials and asked about his “frequent” visits to the Middle East (he had visited Morocco once and Egypt once but no Middle Eastern countries at all). His eventual release had something to do with him being a train driver!
I eventually met up with 10 other Cosmos travellers and we drove through New York in a stretched limo, down 5th Avenue, through Times Square, past Radio City and the Rockefeller Centre, to the Sheraton on 7th Avenue. By the time we had checked in, it was late afternoon and I decided that I would head out to have a look around and get something to eat. By chance I met two others from my party who asked me to join them. I can remember looking up and being overwhelmed by the buildings. They seemed somehow oppressive. After walking for several blocks, we had our first experience of plus-size portions at Brennigans Irish restaurant and bar. After consuming chicken strips the size of girders and a refreshing beer, we walked back via Broadway and I retired to get ready for the trip to begin in earnest. This was a trip which had been on my bucket list since a long-ago TV holiday programme.
September 19th 2004 New York – Rhode Island – Massachusetts
Next morning, we met our Tour Manager and set off down Madison Avenue, past Central Park, through the Bronx and on to Interstate Highway 95, heading for Newport. The 50+ seater coach was almost full (only one bag allowed in the “hold”, any others you had to stow inside as best you could).
It was chilly despite the sunshine – a sting in Hurricane Ivan’s tail I was told. We passed beautiful houses with manicured gardens and then arrived at the Vanderbilts’ country “cottage”. “The Breakers”, built in the late 1800s is one of the grandest of Newport’s “cottages” and the Vanderbilts had gone all out to find the best architects, designers, painters, etc, to create a beautiful house (except for some disgusting wallpaper in the bedrooms). I’ve bought some odd things in gift shops over the years, but I still have a little mug with the words “Votes for Women”, which I bought at “The Breakers”. We then drove up the coast to Hyannis on Cape Cod.
I think that I hadn’t quite grasped the significance of a holiday which included very few meals. I had already eaten lunch alone and now I had to look for somewhere to eat again. I found my way round the rear of the hotel, to a TGI Friday where I had my first seafood meal and a large (and I mean large) beer. I found my way in the dark back to the hotel. It didn’t feel strange. I was OK. In bed, I watched the Emmys and managed to stay awake until 11pm.
This wasn’t my first holiday of the year. I’d had a last-minute invitation to visit family in Bahrain. But being chauffeured around Grand Mosque, the Souk, the new Grand Prix track was a whole different thing from finding my way in the dark on my own. This time, I was really dipping my toe in the water of solo travel. My local travel agent wanted me to dip my toe in a great deal more water – suggesting that I might like to try a cruise, where there are “gentlemen on board who are there for the sole purpose of dancing with the single ladies”. But I decided that certainly was not for me. I have never been on a cruise and am slightly anxious about a very low-key river cruise in Italy which I have booked for this summer. Neither have I danced with any gentlemen on any of my trips!