Day 13 & 14 – 11th & 12th October – JFK – LHR

Photography

Thursday 11th October

We woke up, with rain and thunderstorms scheduled for pretty much the whole day. We dragged ourselves up, at this point we were absolutely knackered. We had breakfast and caught the subway to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We lined up in the queue, along with lots of others whilst the heavens opened. Rain macs on and huddling under one umbrella, we eventually made it inside, and not too wet!

The museum was huge! So obscenely big, I thought our museums in London were big. After my success in map reading, I thought I’d give the museum map ago, but ended up getting more and more confused so we just wondered around. It was mainly the painting, photography and printmaking that interested me. We saw works by Cezanne, Monet, Manet, Jackson Pollock, Delacroix to name a few. It reminded me of the studies I made of these artists at school.

My favourite painting was, The Cathedrals of Art, 1942 by Florine Stettheimer. Oil on Canvas. This had lovely soft pastel pink and balmy yellow shades, a nice contrast on a rainy, grey day.

“In the series of four monumental paintings executed between 1929 and 1942, Stettheimer created extraordinary composite visions of New York’s economic, social, and cultural institutions. The Cathedrals of Art is a fantastical portrait of the New York art world. Microcosms of three of the city’s major museums and their collections are watched over by their directors: the Museum of Modern Art (upper left), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (center), and the Whitney Museum of American Art (upper right). A gathering of art critics, dealers, and photographers of the day, including Stettheimer herself (lower right), appears around the Metropolitan’s grand staircase.”

After the Met, I headed up the road to the Neue Galerie, to see Gustav Klimt’s Woman in Gold. Whilst I went visited the gallery, mum, dad and Laura sat on a bench on their raincoats in Central Park.

After studying him at school, and watching the film I couldn’t not go and see it in the flesh. It really was as incredible as I thought it would be. So much history behind the painting, which also fascinated me. I absolutely loved the film and the painting.

‘Gustav Klimt’s first portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer had initially been intended as a wedding anniversary present for her parents. He was notoriously slow at completing his portraits and it became clear that the intended gift would not be completed in time. He began work on the painting in 1903. In December of that year Klimt visited the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, where he greatly admired the sixth century Byzantine mosaics. This portrait, completed in 1907, is his masterwork in that style.

Klimt presents Adele in an ambiguous position. It is unclear if she is standing or seated in an armchair that is covered in sinuous spirals. A golden and highly ornate halo surrounds her face. Her flushed cheeks and vivid red lips convey the sensuality of the woman behind the portrait. Adele’s hands are clasped together in an unusual fashion to mask a disfigured finger about which she was extremely self-conscious.

Adele Bloch-Bauer is bedecked in precious jewelry, including a diamond choker, which had been a wedding present from her husband Ferdinand. (When the Nazis seizes the Bloch-Bauer collection, this stunning necklace ended up in the possession of notorious Nazi Leader Hermann Göring.) the form-fitting sheath she wears is adorned with all-seeing eye motifs set with golden triangles. The diaphanous clock that surrounds her is stuffed with her initials ‘AB’ raised in low relief. The black and white trim at the lower left edge recalls decorative elements on pieces of furniture from Klimt’s studio that were fabricated by the Wiener Werkstätte. The portrait has been called the greatest in the artist’s ‘golden style’.

When the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938 the Bloch-Bauer assets were seized and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer was forced to flee the country to Switzerland. After futile attempts to recover his property, Ferdinand indicated in his final will that he wished to bequeath his entire estate, including his five Klimt paintings to his nephew and two nieces, on of whom was Maria Altmann.

In 1938, Maria Altmann herself fled Austria with her husband and settled in California. For 60 years, she lived and worked there, with little chance of reclaiming her family legacy. However in 1998, following the public release of documents showing that Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer did not intend for the Belvedere in Vienna to be the repository for the five Klimt paintings in his collection, Maria Altmann requested the return of these works under the Art-Restitution law. Her claim was reverted by the Austrian government. She then filed suit in California, in a case that was eventually brought before the United States Supreme Court.

Finally the Austrian Government and Ms. Altmann agreed to binding arbitration. She was represented by the American lawyer Randol Shoenberg. In 2005, the panel hearing the case determined that the five Klimt paintings were legally bound to be returned to the Bloch-Bauer heirs. At that point, the Neue Galerie President and Co-Founder, Ronald S. Lauder, purchased Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I for the Neue Galerie, where it is the centrepiece of the collection. We remain indebted to the late Ms. Altmann and her family for arranging the acquisition of this masterwork by the Neue Galerie.’

We then mustered the energy to head to Bloomingdales. With frizzy, wet hair and a spotty rain mac, I felt a bit out of place here, in a posh department store. We wondered around and then decided to catch the subway to Grand Central Station. We arrived and were confused at which exit to take, so had to take a mad dash in the pouring rain across the street. I was hoping, after this that it would be worth it.

We have some pretty beautiful stations in London, but this was stunning. Painted ceilings, big arched windows and grand architecture. I can confirm, it was worth getting absolutely soaked. We then caught the subway for the last time to a small little Italian restaurant, just down the road from our hotel. The staff were wonderfully charming, chatty and funny. I had parpadelle with bolognese, homemade tiramisu and finished off the holiday with an espresso martini. A lovely last supper. We had a short walk back to the hotel in the rain and enjoyed a fairly early night.

Friday 12th October

We checked out of our hotel and spent the last few hours heading to 34th street to visit Macy’s. This was more within our budget compared to Bloomingdales. On the way we saw some amazing street artists.

After a quick browse we headed back to Washington Square and stopped at the donut pub. We picked up a box of donuts that we really didn’t need but we couldn’t come to New York and not try one, plus we had racked up a few more steps before our flight.

We sat in Washington Park and enjoyed the donuts. My favourite was the Boston Creme. Custard filled with a chocolate glaze. Yummy! After relaxing in the park we picked up our bags and caught a taxi to the airport. The traffic was gridlocked and slow the entire way. I was panicking, as per usual that we wouldn’t make it (fully knowing we would) but an anxious mind can’t help it. Our taxi driver was clearly tired as he kept splashing his face with water and his eyes kept closing! To our relief, we made it. We dropped off our bags and boarded our flight. We arrived back to Heathrow ahead of time on Saturday morning, due to the winds.

Our little adventure finally came to an end after two amazing weeks and we enjoyed every minute. Here’s to planning the next big adventure.

Day 12 – 10th October

Photography

This morning we set off to the Empire State Building. We were a little worried as it was still quite cloudy, but was a lot clearer than the previous day.

The Empire State Building tops out at 1250 feet (the later antenna mast rises to 1454 feet) and contains 2,850,000 rentable square feet, making it one of the largest office buildings in the world. The Empire State Building required 57,000 tons of steel, 10 million bricks, 62,000 cubic yards of concrete, 10,000 tons of plaster, 6,514 windows, 6,700 radiators and 70 elevators installed in 7 miles of shafts and 120 miles of hoisting ropes. Pretty impressive if you ask me!

We were warned visibility wasn’t great, and that we wouldn’t be able to see too far but we proceeded all the way to the 80th floor. Thankfully they had a lift! Luckily, we had great views of the Chrysler building and all the other high rise blocks across the city. It was especially great being able to go on the outside viewing platform on the 86th floor. A great photo opportunity.

After this, we went to Central Park. It had really brightened up and we took a horse ride around Central Park. I felt like a real tourist, but it was a great opportunity to see a lot of the park, (as with 840 acres in total, it would take a while) as well as being able to take a break from the exhausting walking!

We saw the bridges, where Elf and Home Alone are filmed, and the fountain where the opening credits of friends was filmed. We also saw the centre point of New York, hence the name Central Park.

We then grabbed a bite to eat, and sat in the park and watched a couple of guys play the drums and saxophone. This was really enjoyable and nice to spend a little time watching the world go by.

It was now time to head to Times Square. We wanted to see it in the daylight, as well as after dark. So we walked here from Central Park and mooched about. We stopped and watched a fun street show, where a group of guys jumped over various members of the audience. This was really fun! We did a spot of shopping, though not too much for my bank balance. If only…

By this time, we had certainly worked up an appetite. We went to Ellen’s Stardust diner. A fun place where your waiters sing and dance on the tables. This was a really good end to the evening, being able to sing, dance and clap away whilst enjoying traditional American diner food and shakes. Over 200 waiters from the diner have gone on to fulfil their dreams and appear on broadway.

We finally caught the subway back to our hotel, after enjoying the hustle and bustle of Times Square after dark, with all the bright lights. A good nights rest, was what we needed after an extremely long day. Ready (or not) to do it all again the following morning.

Day 10 & 11 – 8th & 9th October – SFO – JFK

Photography

Monday 8th October

We left for SFO airport around 8am. We arrived and checked in our luggage and had some breakfast. It turns out our flight was delayed by an hour, however it went fairly quick. I watched Molly’s Game and Coco on the plane. We checked into our hotel, showered in the most amazing shower and headed to bed. Luckily we managed to get to sleep okay as we were three hours ahead of San Francisco.

Tuesday 9th October

Getting up however was a different story. We pulled ourselves out for breakfast around 8.30 and made our way out to explore. We began by getting a taxi to Battery Park, we then got the Staten Ferry across to Manhattan. This was free and had great views of the Statue of Liberty. It was extremely misty. So you couldn’t see all the high rise buildings but it was great all the same. After being approached about a $35 pp boat trip to the island, we were glad we took the free option.

The Statue of Liberty was really great, just as you see in all the pictures. A bright teal green statue made from copper which is 2.5mm thick, the same as two American pennies placed together. The internal structure is comprised of cast iron and stainless steel. The Statue’s copper has naturally oxidized to form the outer patina, or green, coating. Upon completion in 1886, the Statue of Liberty was more of a traditional brown color, like an American penny. It took about thirty years for the Statue of Liberty to fully oxidize and form the patina.

The Statue is 305 feet, 1 inch (about 93m) from the ground to the tip of the flame. It is the equivalent height of a 22-story building and was the tallest structure in New York in 1886.

The Statue’s current torch, added in 1986, is a copper flame covered in 24K gold. It is reflective of the sun’s rays in daytime and lighted by floodlights at night. The original torch was removed in 1984 and is now a display piece inside the Pedestal lobby. I thought the torch was lit with an LED or something so to find out it’s actually covered in 24k gold is very impressive.

The torch is a symbol of enlightenment. The Statue’s official name represents its most important symbol, “Liberty Enlightening the World.”

Classical images of Liberty are often depicted in a female form. The Statue of Liberty was modeled after the Roman Goddess of Liberty.

The tablet in the Statue’s left hand has the date of American Independence: July 4, 1776. The date is written in Roman numerals and reads July IV MDCCLXXVI.

We then took a short walk to the 9/11 memorial museum. This was a beautifully poignant tribute to the victims lost in the disaster. We looked at the South and North Pool and went into the museum.

I found myself with tears in my eyes and found it hard to believe the anguish that the people of America must have felt that day. The photographs taken fascinated me, and the remnants of the attack from the busted steel girders, to the aeroplane seatbelt really hit hard.

It made me angry, at the people who think it’s okay to take away the lives of innocent people, who have families or are someone’s family. It was beautifully set out and displayed. The fountains outside, represent the tears lost, and each of the lives lost had their names engraved. With a white rose placed on a name on their birthdays. We saw a few roses, and this was incredibly sad.

Afterwards, we wondered through Westfield, then caught the subway to the Highline. This was the first time we used the subway and it was a success. I managed to navigate us all the way their – women can read maps after all!

The Highline had some amazing street art and views of the city with the most gorgeous sunset. I really enjoyed this, a must see.

We couldn’t come to New York and not try a burger, so hunted out a good place to go. We headed back towards our hotel and stopped for dinner at Bar Sardine. We had their Fedora Burger, named after their sister restaurant Fedora. I loved the atmosphere in this place, sat by the open windows with the gentle breeze cooling us down. The burger was out of this world.

We practically rolled back to our hotel. After over 17,000 steps I was well and truly broken. My bed was officially calling.

Day 9 – 7th October

Photography

This morning we had a very early wake up. We were out of the hotel at 5.40 to make our way to Yosemite National Park. Luckily the coach was picking us up from the hotel opposite so thankfully we didn’t have to travel far. Our driver and tour guide Constantine told us about all the sights on the way, with a 4 hour drive there there was lots to see, and an opportunity to catch a bit of shut eye after the early start. (Im not really a morning person!)

Our first stop was at Tuolumne Grove Trailhead. We took a short hike to see the red Sequoia trees. These were huge, I have never seen trees like it! The hike wasn’t too intense but still hard to walk back up to the top, the saving grace was that it was a much cooler climate here, compared to that of Bryce Canyon. It took about an hour and 15 minutes and it was good to stretch our legs after a long drive. I was glad we had this stop as we were able to see some Sequoia trees after not being able to see them in Muir Woods.

Giant Sequoias are considered one of the oldest, largest, and fastest growing trees in the world. Armed with a remarkable resistance to disease, sequoias can live for over 3,000 years, grow to 300 feet tall and over measure 30 feet around.

Eventually, these noble giants fall over from their own massive weight. Fire scars burned into old trees are testament to their fire resistance and longevity. To get a sense of a sequoia’s age, count the concentric rings in its stump.

Young trees up to several hundred years old, have pointed crowns. Mature trees, approaching 1,000 years old, develop rounded tops. The surviving ancient trees often have dead tops, the result of repeated lightening strikes.

Sequoia trees prefer deep, well drained soils and elevations between 4,500 and 7,000 feet where water is more available from melting snow. They can endure temperature variations from 5 – 100 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 – 38 degrees Celsius). The bark of the oldest trees can grow up to two feet thick!

“For beauty and symmetry they cannot be surpassed. They are perfect to a fault.” -J.L Cogswell May 17, 1858.

There are only 75 naturally occurring groves of giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum). These trees are only found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains in central California. It is a mystery why these groves have become isolated.

We then headed to Tunnel View. Where we had stunning views of El Capitan, Horsetail Fall, Clouds Rest, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Fall.

In Yosemite, you may never witness the same scene twice. Whether spring or fall, morning or afternoon you get the opportunity to encounter an ever changing view. In summer, clouds glide amidst granite peaks. Fall splashes autumn hues upon maple and oak trees across the valley floor. Winter brings snow, accenting the subtle details of granite walls, while spring breathes life back into ephemeral waterfalls and renews the echo of rushing water through the valley.

‘It is by far the grandest if all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter’ – John Muir

We were so lucky, it was a beautifully bright and sunny day and the views were amazing. After we got our pictures, we headed down into the valley. We had a couple of hours here and went on a lovely walk. We walked along the river, and across two bridges, Sentinel bridge and Swinging bridge. It didn’t actually swing, but once used to. It was the perfect temperature for walking, a nice cool breeze but wonderfully sunny.

We then got back onto the coach, and stopped at a couple of viewpoints. We saw climbers making their way up El Capitan – this was mind blowing, they were tiny pin pricks, and it’s when you see them climbing that you realise how humongous these rocks are. Rather them than me!

We made our way back to the hotel, viewing the most gorgeous sunset. After a nap, and some reading we arrived back at our hotel around 10.30pm and slept extremely well after 15,000 steps. Ready for our flight to New York the following morning.

Day 8 – 6th October

Photography

We left the hotel early, at 6.45 to walk to Pier 33 to queue for tickets for Alcatraz. We didn’t pre-book tickets, against the advice of many people! So nervously hoped we would be able to get some after our Muir Woods failure yesterday. The queue wasn’t as long as I thought it would be, especially after my experience in Amsterdam, queueing for hours in the rain at Anne Frank House despite being there super early! We got tickets for the 8.45 crossing. Hurrah! This meant we didn’t have time to kill, we just grabbed breakfast from their cafe, a nice egg and sausage muffin and boarded the boat.

We arrived at the island and listened to a quick briefing by the park ranger and then spoke to William Baker, an ex Alcatraz prisoner. They had a military band, and people dressed up in old costumes as part of their living history weekend – not sure if this is because of the Fleet Week celebrations or this is just the norm and they say it so make you feel extra special. We walked up to the prison – a pretty steep hill, collected our audio guides and walked round.

It was really eerie, and had it not been filled with tons of tourists it probably would have put me on edge. I found it hard to get my head around the fact that once upon a time people, bad people were locked up here. They had an old photo with a quote on it that said ‘Break the rules and you go to prison, break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz’. So this was where people got sent for time outs from other prisons, so not just bad people, very bad!

You could go in the cells, and outside and see amazing views of San Francisco skyline. It was a really good experience. I think it would have been really cool to do a night tour, then I think you’d get the real feeling of what it was like to stay there. That evening I read a bit more about William Baker, he went back there some 50 years later and stayed in his cell. This must have been extremely strange for him. He went outside, and to the wardens office. Something he couldn’t do when he was serving time. After reading this before I went to bed, I have to say I did struggle to wind down! Probably not the most sensible idea of mine. I look forward to reading his book and hearing more about his story.

After Alcatraz, we went to catch the hop on hop off bus to Sausalito to see if we could get a bus to Muir Woods, this ran at the weekends and took around an hour. It turned out that we didn’t have the correct tickets for the hop on bus, and after some very unhelpful customer service we decided we didn’t have the time.

All was not lost, because we can claim the trip back and knew we had a great, long day trip to Yosemite the next day. We decided instead to roam around Fisherman’s Wharf and enjoy more of the Fleet Week celebrations, watching more of the air show, sitting on the grass in the sunshine drinking an ice cold fresh lemonade. We then got an ice cream, I had coffee it was delicious and headed back to the hotel for a swim and to chill by the pool.

It’s funny, how I felt guilty for spending a few hours by the pool when I should be site seeing and exploring. I was tired though, and it was lovely to have some relaxing time in the sun. It’s a holiday after all!

We then went for a delicious Italian meal a couple of blocks from our hotel. I had a scallop pasta, we shared a side salad with candied walnuts and Gorgonzola which was amazing and finished it off with chocolate torte. It’s fair to say the America diet is going extremely well, but with all the walking I’d like to say we are earning it, that’s what I’m telling myself anyway! We caught an early night as we had a big day at Yosemite the following day.

Day 7 – 5th October

Photography

After a great nights sleep in the most comfortable bed, we got up early and went out to pick up our 48 hour hop on hop off bus tour tickets. We went to the ticket office about ten minutes away. We were then told to go to another place, quite far away so we took a very brisk walk for about 45 minutes. It was then we realised how hilly San Francisco is!

Unfortunately, after jumping on the hop-on hop-off bus we realised we didn’t actually go to the right place and missed our tour to Muir Woods!

All wasn’t lost though, we got the bus over the Golden Gate Bridge and went into Sausalito. It was beautiful here. A small city full of boutique shops and cafes. After nearly being blown off the open air bus, the sun was shining and it was lovely and warm. We had a wander around and then sat outside in a cafe for a coffee and a small bite to eat.

We then caught the ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf. Bikes were loaded on, so many bikes! We had amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and when we arrived back at Fisherman’s Wharf, we were greeted with a fantastic air show by the Navy Blue Angels. The engines were SO loud.

This is part of the Fleet Week celebrations. San Francisco Fleet Week (SFFW) began in 1981 when then Mayor Dianne Feinstein led the nation in celebrating America’s sea services. Taking place every October on the Marina Green over Italian Heritage Weekend, SFFW’s air show, parade of ships and many community events have become a significant and integral part of the city’s local culture and economy. San Francisco Fleet Week is an annual public event that honors the contributions of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces while advancing cooperation and knowledge among civilian- and military-based Humanitarian Assistance personnel.

We then walked to Pier 39 where we watched the Navy Band South West, from San Diego. They were really good, singing old and new songs. Everyone was singing along and dancing, people looked really happy. We then went to Bubba Gump for dinner. I had Surf and Turf – bbq ribs with shrimp! I am not a huge lover of prawns, but these were delicious.

We walked back to our hotel for an relatively early night as we were up early the next day for another busy day of sight seeing.

Day 5 – 3rd October

Photography

Today we had our last full day in Vegas. We started the day right with a trip to Denny’s. By the time we navigated the bus system we were starving, and it’s probably best as the breakfasts were huge. Hash browns, two eggs sunny side up with sausages and a stack of blueberry buttermilk pancakes with strawberries, banana and a healthy serving of maple syrup. Needless to say I scoffed it down and 20 minutes later went into a major food coma.

We then headed to the Las Vegas sign. An obligatory thing to do as a tourist, and I sort of felt ashamed of myself but what the hell. A guy took a picture of us all. He stands there all day taking pictures for people, which is great as it means we could all get one together.

After this we went to the Venetian hotel. It was stunning inside, with spectacular painted ceilings. Again full of restaurants, arcades and a casino. We tried our luck at some roulette. We put $50 down and within the first round I was out, but Mum had her lucky pants on and kept winning. A grand total of $72 making us $22. I know, I know we are hardcore.

We went back to the hotel and got ready for the Cirque du Soleil Show ‘O’ at Bellagio. This was absolutely incredible. I have never seen a show like it. I was amazed by the workmanship, writing, art direction, costumes and everything in between. A great mix of drama and comedy.

We then finished the night off with dinner at Lago, a posh (very posh) Italian tapas style restaurant onlooking the Bellagio Fountains. We ordered small plates of pastas, small pizzas and meats to share. It was so delicious. I think the pasta with lamb ragu was my favourite. We were ravenous (surprising after that huge breakfast, I know) so didn’t get a chance to take pictures. As per usual we still had room for dessert, despite being really full at this point. I had the most perfect crème brûlée that I have ever eaten. We then watched the fountain show from outside and headed back to the hotel. I thoroughly enjoyed this evening!