Paddy’s Day in New York

New York has the reputation of hosting the biggest and best St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world. With this in mind, I decided this year that I was going to be part of it. So I booked time off work, the cheapest flights I could find on the internet and a reasonable hotel not too far away from all the action.

The Drive To The Airport

I set off for Manchester Airport on a cold, wet and very windy Friday morning. It’s about a 3 hour drive so the roads were quiet but that’s probably for the best. If you’ve seen the movie Twister, the only thing missing was the Frisian cow hurtling past the car windscreen as I drove along.

The Flights To New York

The American Airlines flight to Chicago was fantastic although quite a bit of turbulence. There was loads of leg-room and the in-flight movie was Zoolander. The food wasn’t anything special but I’ve been on enough flights to know that it was better than most. The flight from the Windy City to the Big Apple was a lot shorter but also a lot more uncomfortable. Maybe it was because I’d been flying for about 8 hours already.

The Taxi-Ride To The Hotel

It was dark by the time I got out of La Guardia Airport so there really wasn’t much to see on the way over to Manhattan. The taxi-ride was mad and a little uncomfortable. He was driving far too fast, having to brake heavily quite a few times. He either knew exactly how wide the taxi was or he didn’t have a clue because several times it looked like he was going to side-swipe other cars but somehow managed to avoid them at the last second.

Friday Night

After grabbing a quick shower at the hotel, I was off exploring. I tried to have a look round Madison Square Gardens but Elton John was playing that night and security weren’t having any of it. There were loads of ticket-touts around and that was causing them a huge problem. The concert the following night had to be cancelled as Elton had the flu or something.

I had something to eat in a pizzeria just outside the Gardens and then and got drunk in 1 of the Irish bars off 5th Ave. Beer is relatively expensive over there – don’t expect much change from $5 for a bottled beer, even an American one.

The Parade

The next morning, I was woken up at around 7am from car horns, etc. from the street below. I was staying on the 10th floor so I hate to imagine what it was like on the ground. I found out about an hour later but I think it had died down by then. All the morning deliveries had been made, etc. Brunch was a hot dog from 1 of the many outlets along 5th Avenue.

The police were starting to close off streets along 5th Ave. and re-direct people on the pavements too. An air of excitement was growing; people were milling around trying to find the best spot to watch the parade. I choose a spot outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral which was quiet at the time but it soon got very busy.

I watched the parade for a few hours; to be honest, toward the end it started to get boring. There were several tributes to the emergency services from 9/11. It seemed that any fire fighters or NYPD who weren’t on duty that day marched in the parade. New York’s ex-mayor, Rudolf Guliani did a walk-about, shaking hands with people – [1],Β [2].

A 12:04 precisely, everybody turned south to face where the twin towers would have been and observed a 2 minute silence. It was REALLY eerie; I’ve never known so many people to be so quite for so long.

I gave up watching the parade about 2:30 for 2 reasons – 1) there’s a limit to the number of marching pipe bands and firemen/police that anyone can watch; and 2) I was getting hungry. Getting something to eat wouldn’t be a problem. Getting back onto 5th Ave. afterwards just wouldn’t happen so I went looking for what else was going on. On the way back to the hotel, I came across these street performers.

Other Manhattan Landmarks

I spent Sunday visiting some of the other landmarks around Manhattan Island. The UN building was the most interesting. Security was tight and I had to leave my back-pack at the security cordon. They let me take my camera in but only after I showed them that it really was just a camera.

There are guided tours of the building including entry into the Security Council chambers. However, the lobby was the best bit for me. There are biographical details of all the Nobel Peace Prize winners since it was first awarded. There’s an exhibit of icons painted by children from around the world and a fantastic stain glass window.

Walking down the street, I found a huge mirror propped up against the wall. I took this picture of me.

Monday

Monday I spent packing and travelling back to the UK. The sunset from the airport terminal in Chicago was phenomenal.

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Kefalos, Greece

Kefalos is a beautiful resort on the southern tip of Kos Island. To me, it is the smallest but not necessarily the quietest of the 3 main resorts on the island; the other 2 being Kos Town and Kardamena.

We stayed at the Antonis Hotel on a bed and breakfast basis. It’s a nice hotel at the western end of the resort; it’s a bit basic but comfy, with it’s own swimming pool. The quality and variety of surrounding facilities are very good. The only time we spent in the hotel was to sleep and eat breakfast. However, we did spend quite a bit of time by the pool too.

Kefalos boasts a 2km pebble beach which is just wonderful with tons of stuff going on. It’s the perfect spot for wind-surfing; every day we were there, there were surfers zipping up and down the coast. Obviously, some days were busier and/or better than others but they were always out there. There’s a number of places to go water-skiing. You can hire jet-skis or the more sedate pedalos.

I tried paracending for the first time while I was there. It was excellent! It’s really peaceful up there and, for me, it was the best way to have a look around the resort. Be warned though! If you get Georgis to take you, he’ll dunk you in the water on the way back down so don’t take any cameras, etc. up with you. Getting dunked isn’t really a problem because the water is so warm and you’ll dry off by the time you get back to shore.

NOTE: You should check your own travel insurance before doing any kind of water sports while on holiday. The organisation providing the water sports may be insured but I get the distinct impression that it’s insurance against being sued for compensation so heads up, people!

For other kinds of activities, it doesn’t seem to matter which tour company you go with. They can all provide you with tickets to numerous social events. From a traditional Greek Night with all sorts of food and free-flowing wine to a VERY blue comic who takes the mickey out of EVERYBODY; himself, the DJ Lance, all the people there and of course all the usual Irish, Scots, Welsh, American and battle of the sexes jokes. If you’re broad-minded then you’re missing out if you don’t see him. But, if you’re easily offended, give this guy a WIDE berth.

Madrid & Valencia, Spain

This holiday did not have a good start at all! Some stupid idiot left some luggage on the plane. This was mistaken for a bomb and so emergency procedures were put in place. The whole airport was evacuated and a lot of flights were diverted. We were over 6 hours late in taking off so I was really NOT impressed!

We arrived in Madrid late on the Saturday afternoon. The taxi drivers in Spain are absolutely bonkers so if you’re a nervous passenger, take my advice and sit in the back. Nothing happened to us while we were there but it wasn’t for the want of trying by the taxi drivers we had.

All the stuff we’d planned to do in Madrid that afternoon/night was ruined because we were so late. To whomever owned that bag, “Thanks very much, you pillock!” We just went for something to eat and to stretch our legs. We had a really nice meal in a square somewhere in the old part of the city. I couldn’t take you there again if I tried; there’s loads of squares like that and the whole place is just 1 big rabbit warren.

While we were eating, along came a couple of buskers who were really quite good!. They stood there and played for about 10 to 15 minutes and then moved off to the middle of the square. It was really pleasant.

I guess I’m the typical english-speaking tourist in that I expect everyone in the whole world to be able to understand what I say. I was in for a nasty surprise the next morning. We almost missed our train to Valencia because I couldn’t get it across to the guy in the tourist information office what I wanted. Our train was boarding in another building; it’s all part of the same station but Madrid Central Station is HUGE! To cut a long story short, we just made it. We settled down for a comfy and very relaxing journey towards the coast – nothing like UK trains.

The rest of the week was relatively boring really but then again we were on holiday. Valencia is a beautiful place, full of interesting little nooks and crannies. It was amazing the shops, buildings and squares we found just wandering down side-streets and what looked like dead-ends. I’m not into architecture at all but even I could appreciate the skill that went into building various monuments and buildings.

The weather was fabulous! It wasn’t too hot during the day – it averaged about 35 degrees Celsius each day. I expected it to get really cool in the evenings but not at all. More than once we ended up sitting in pavement
cafe-bars after midnight in just short-sleeved shirts; the beer helped I guess.

The food is excellent but I guess it could get a bit boring if you’re not that adventurous when it comes to food. There’s a huge choice of places to eat on the beach-front and in the centre but instead of having completely different menus, they each have their own variation of certain dishes.

By the way, the architecture isn’t the only thing of beauty in Spain. Several times, myself and a lesbian friend would get caught out, drooling like idiots as absolutely drop-dead gorgeous girls walked by. We saw some truly amazing creatures.