Archive for January, 2007

Julien and Karine came to stay with us this weekend, arriving only 5 “Julien” minutes late for dinner. He blamed it on the British trains, and this week I might actually believe him.

I’ve had a nightmare on the trains recently, with delays nearly every other day. One day it’s leaves on the line, the next it’s the wrong kind of snow – every day is a different excuse. On the plus side, delays of 30 minutes or more mean that you get your entire fare refunded (if you are diligent enough to write into the company). I’m now at the point where I’ve got a form letter set up, so it takes me no time at all to write in for compensation. I’ve been travelling nearly free for the past three weeks!

In any case, I cooked a rib of beef – I thought it would be nice to do something traditionally British, so I used mad cow for the recipe. Considering it’s Julien we’re talking about, I figured “what’s the harm?”

Julien was keen to show Karine the metropolitan delights of Canterbury, so we headed out for a few drinks. Only to discover that our preferred bar was closed for refurbishment, and all the other bars stopped serving at 11pm. We finally discovered that our local Cuban place was still open and serving, so we passed away several hours there…

Julien and Aude

Julien and Aude

Karine and Julien

Karine and Julien

Aude, Karine and Julien

Aude, Karine and Julien

Aude, Matt and Karine

Aude, Matt and Karine

Okay, I realise that a blog isn’t as personal as an e-mail or a phone call, but it does help me keep in touch with friends and relatives. And from the feedback that I’ve had, my regular readers enjoy hearing about what Aude and I are up to…

How you doin

A New York-style greeting from Matthew

…but the downside is that it is becoming a one-way street. Those of you who keep blogs of your own are off the hook (and it’s great to hear about what’s going on with you) but for those of you without blogs, it would be great to get an occasional e-mail to let me know what you’re up to.

I’m very nosy.

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Aude took this portrait of me, and liked it — so I thought I’d include it here.

Sunrise in Manhattan

Sunrise in Manhattan

I woke up just before dawn and caught the sun rising through the window. It was worth grabbing my camera to capture it. No matter how good the technology, it doesn’t capture the warmth of the moment.

It’s bloody FREEZING! I think we must have brought the cold weather home with us. After dragging my jet-lagged body out of bed this morning, I was greeted with arctic gales and frosty temperatures, a real change after the very mild winter we’ve had so far. To make matters worse, I was running late and didn’t have time to grab my normal cup of coffee before jumping on the train. It’s a rough way to start the week.

Back to New York. We arrived late on Thursday night, delayed an hour because the pilots had trouble getting to the airport. We had severe winds on Thursday night, downing trees and power lines across the country, and generally making travel of all sorts difficult. The strong headwind also meant that our flight took longer – we eventually arrived in New York around midnight, and got to our hotel around 1am. New York roads are as bad as ever, and I saw my life flash before my eyes several times on the cab journey from the airport.

Sheraton New York

Lobby of the Sheraton New York. I was upgraded to a nice suite, but Anne Laure and Neil were “upgraded” to a handicapped room, where everything was designed for someone 3ft tall.

We were up early on Friday morning and decided to hit the city. I wanted to hit B&H Photo – closed on Friday afternoons and Saturdays because it’s run by Orthodox Jews – so that was the first order of business. I ended up with a 50mm lens for my camera and a new camera bag. And I talked Neil into buying one as well (…and so starts the addiction!).

Lens addict

Matthew tries to decide which lens he wants.

Lots of stuff

Neil was giving me a hard time about buying a lot of stuff — until we saw this guy. He must have bought every accessory in the store! He dumped everything out on the floor and packed it into his new camera bag.

We stopped off for a Mexican lunch, then headed to the International Photography Center, where we saw the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition I had wanted to see in Paris. I thought it was fitting to see his photos, a sort of “tribute” to a 50mm lens, in light of my new purchase.

Friday evening we met up with my friend Peter and his girlfriend for a few drinks at the W Hotel at Times Square, then headed out to dinner at Les Halles, Anthony Bourdin’s original NY restaurant, where Aude and I split a piece of steak just slightly larger than my head.

Whiskey Bar

At the Whiskey Bar, beneath the W Hotel in Times Square. (Photo courtesy of Peter)

MG rode up from her home-away-from-home in New Jersey on Saturday – her first trip to New York. We picked her up at Penn Station and went straight into Macy’s – start as you meant to continue. On a tip from Peter’s girlfriend, we all met for lunch at Golden Bridge in Chinatown for dim sum – and were pretty much the only white people there.

Dim sum

Dim sum with everyone at the Golden Bridge restaurant in Chinatown. (Photo courtesy of Peter)

After gorging ourselves, we spent the afternoon exploring the city – Times Square, Fifth Avenue, the World Trade Centre site – then onto the real New York landmark – Century 21! Famished after hours of shopping, we headed to Little Italy for dinner. We had some fantastic veal, then went around the corner to Ferrara’s bakery for some dessert. After trying unsuccessfully to hail a cab, I managed to blag a ride home in a passing limo.

We were up like clockwork on Sunday morning, Neil’s stomach calling out for food. There was no avoiding it – we needed breakfast at a Jewish deli. We went into Carnegie Deli on 7th Ave and had a traditional deli breakfast with all the trimmings – including a waitress who looked like she’d been working there since the turn of the century. The nineteenth century.

Carnegie Deli

The gang at the Carnegie Deli, shortly before being abused by the pre-historic waitress.

Clearly unimpressed with our unfamiliarity with deli procedure, she served us cheerlessly with her patented “service without a smile.” Still, it could be worse. She yelled at the retired travellers behind us for ordering a side-order of cream cheese, complaining that she had to walk all the way back to the kitchen. Funny, that’s what I thought her job was.

She added a 20% gratuity to our bill.

I got to thinking – if she keeps her tips ($14 on our $70 bill) and serves ten tables an hour, she’s clearing $140 an hour in tips. Assuming she works a 4-hour shift, five days a week, that’s $140K a year – a significant portion of which, I assume, does not get reported to the tax man. It’s easy to look at a 70+ year old woman and feel sorry that she has to work as a waitress. But then I did the arithmetic and my sympathy was tempered somewhat. She’s laughing all the way to the bank.


Some completely mad people running a half-marathon in Central Park in the middle of winter.

Laden with food, we headed up to Central Park, where we caught the tail end of the half-marathon that Peter was running in. We didn’t manage to catch him (he was too quick for us) but we did get a chance to see some of his slower competitors bringing up the rear.

Rockefeller Center

Skaters in Rockefeller Center.

Neil finds heaven

Neil finds heaven on Fifth Avenue.


Heaven, like God himself, takes many forms. For MG, it comes in the form of Prada.

After discovering that all the shops on Fifth don’t open until 11am on a Saturday, we headed town to the Staten Island Ferry.

Subway skills

Neil is, frankly, a little skeptical of my subway navigation skills.

Subway skills

Aude, on the other hand, is totally unimpressed and threatens to leave me for one of the rats that run down the tracks!

The New York subway.

The New York subway.

In their wisdom, someone put me in charge of navigating the Metro. I learned a number of embarrassing lessons about riding the New York subway.

  1. You can only swipe four people through on a Metro card. Which means that, if you’re the fifth guy, you look like jackass when you then try to swipe yourself through, instead getting impaled on the barrier.
  2. Colours and lines do not correspond 1-to-1. Which helps explain why it took four separate trains to get from 50th to the South Ferry.
  3. If ever your swipe card doesn’t work, wrapping it with a dollar bill to clean the sensors is a surprising effective trick.
  4. Trains are infuriatingly infrequent on a Sunday. Particularly if you need to change four times because your map-reader doesn’t quite understand the subway system.
  5. If you’re going less than 20 blocks, take a cab. It’s just as cheap, and a damn sight quicker and more convenient.
Staten Island Ferry

After a ride on nearly every subway line, we finally reached the Staten Island Ferry.

Anne Laure and Neil

Anne Laure and Neil on the Staten Island Ferry.

Matt and Neil

Matt and Neil enjoy a New York delicacy – a hot pretzel with mustard.

After the Staten Island Ferry and the Statue of Liberty, it was back to 5th Ave for some more shopping. We worked our way down until we eventually ended up at Macy’s again – MG was jealous of the cheap cashmere sweaters I had found and wasn’t going to leave Manhattan until she had some of her own.

We reconvened with Anne Laure and Neil on Sunday night – a low key dinner at Sushiden (fantastic sushi and very accommodating waitresses, endlessly entertained by Neil’s “sake bombs” but not terribly fluent in English. When asked what something was, our waitress helpfully informed us that she “knew the name in Japanese”.) Early to bed, we were up at 5am for our trip back to JFK.

So there you have it – three days in New York. It actually felt much longer. We hit all the big sights, did our bit for the US economy, grabbed a few bargains, and ate enough to feed an army. Best £200 I’ve spent in a long time.

Celebrity sightings while in NY:

  1. Richard Wilkins – Australian TV presenter and recent winner of “Australia’s Worst Show Biz TV Reporter” in the 2006 Fugly Awards.” Staying at our hotel.
  2. Jean-Baptiste Requien, Gordon Ramsay’s right-hand man, at Ramsay’s restaurant in New York. Anne-Laure tried to sweet-talk her way into a table, but no dice.
  3. Crazy “I Surrender” Guy – clearly a man who has spent quite a while in incarceration. Spotted walking off the Staten Island Ferry, hands in the air, trying to surrender to anyone in a uniform – Transit Police, dock operators, and the hotdog vendor. Could have been a relative of Henry Earl.
  4. Dances With Cats” – spotted on the Staten Island Ferry with a curiously noisy shopping bag.
  5. Fat “Shouts at Passers-By” Guy, spotted shouting at passers-by at the corner of 44th and 5th.
  6. Mr Rhetorical Questions, spotted countless examples of these fellows (and ladies) who speak endlessly to themselves.
New York Characters

Another one of New York’s colourful characters!

New York character

Seems like the perfect character to set off the one above!

Still, it wouldn’t be New York without characters like these.

We’re just back from our long weekend in New York, propping up the US economy and taking advantage of the weak dollar for a long weekend of shopping, sight-seeing, and eating! We managed to miss the weeks and weeks of warm, pleasant weather and hit the city right in the middle of a seriously cold spell — high temperatures most days were below freezing, with gusty winds making the problem even worse.

Still, we had a great time, snagged some really good bargains, and caught up with some old friends. More pictures coming soon, but here are a few to start!

Statue of Liberty

Aude and Anne Laure with a very small Statue of Liberty. Neil refused to pose for this photo on principle. Spoilsport.

Radio City

Aude and Anne Laure in front of Radio City Music Hall.

Rockefeller Center

Anne Laure and Neil in front of the ice rink at Rockefeller Center.


Even when he’s on vacation, Matthew never takes his eye off his work. Here he is in front of the offices in New York checking his Blackberry. Ironically, the office was the first thing we spotted from our hotel window. You can’t miss it — the neon sign is 200 feet tall!

Matthew at the hotel

Matthew relaxes in the hotel room after a long day of shopping.

Three amigos

The three amigos – Aude, Maria Grazia, and Anne Laure, all pose for a group shot.


It was great to see Peter again after so long. It looks like he feels the same way.

Anne Laure and Neil

Anne Laure and Neil waiting for the subway.

MG is in heaven

All of Maria Grazia’s wishes come true at once. Looking peaceful and calm, she has clearly attained nirvana.