Sunday, April 18, 2010

The week a volcano in Iceland brought air travel to a halt, an Irishman called Colm O’Gorman, a notorious Russian called Zherebkov, Xhristos Voskresi, dinner at home with friends and a very wet walk.

The volcano from Iceland which has caused the air traffic chaos
Hello this cold and blustery Sunday morning in April,

At school I remember learning the months of the calendar and each one had a phrase about the weather. Unfortunately I can only remember two of them: March winds and April showers. Well this week we have had both wind and showers and during yesterday’s walk Eladio and I got drenched. We left the house whilst it was sunny although there were some dark clouds threatening rain. I wore my anorak and Eladio only his jumper and no umbrella. When we got to the end of the first half of the walk that was when the cloud above us began to open until it burst and let out all the water it contained upon us, followed by thunder and lightning. We shared my coat which at least kept our necks dry but that was about the only part of our bodies which did not get soaking wet. We had to go across the fields to avoid walking near the trees and huddled together made our way home the best we could. At home a hot bath and shower were in order and soon we were dry and warm and laughing about our experience.

People across Europe at different airports are not laughing about their experience I am sure. This was the week the Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable name of Eyjafjallajökull erupted and amazingly its clouds of volcanic ash are spreading across Europe with no signs of stopping and have brought air travel nearly to a halt. The reason? Apparently volcanic ash can cause aircraft engines to fail and mar visibility for pilots.

As I write air traffic has been halted because of the volcanic dust for the last 4 days and yesterday’s newspapers reported that this had affected or stranded more than 5 million people in Europe.
Airport departure boards include the words "cancelled" all over Europe.
People are looking for alternative transport to flying which is now only possible in the south of Europe. There are stories of people taking taxis from London to Barcelona at a cost of thousands of euros. I have a friend, Johan who is now driving from Madrid to Copenhagen. I have another friend, Marianne, who is setting up her office at the Novotel Hotel in Munich unable to fly to her home country Finland or to her work place in Dubai. Taxis are making a big business out of the chaos and international events will be cancelled in the coming days. There are more stories of the region’s leaders in difficulty too, like the German Chancellor Angela Merkel taking 60 hours to reach Berlin from San Francisco.  Her plane was diverted to Portugal where she spent the night from where she flew the next day to Rome and from Rome she went by bus and car to Berlin!!!  Today the world’s leaders cannot travel to the funeral in Krakow for the late President Lerch Kaczynksi and his wife who were among 96 people killed in a plane crash in Russia last week.
The funeral in Krakow today for the President of Poland and his wife who died amongst 96 people in Russia last week and to which the world's dignatories could not get to because of the halt in air traffic.
The crisis is unprecedented and brings many repercussions a lot of which will be financial. BA has laid off its whole fleet of more than 200 aircraft at a loss of 15 million euros a day. The insurance companies wash their hands off the issue claiming they only insure damage of the aircraft and no damage has been caused. And what about the people who are stranded and cannot afford taxis for thousands of euros or cannot buy a train ticket as they are sold out or cannot be found because of the rail strike for instance in France or the many human dramas behind this crisis? This is an issue I imagine governments will have to handle and in the UK for example I read today that a historian has organised a “Dunkirk Flotilla” to rescue stranded Britons. Oh how the British know how to rise to the occasion. I just hope governments in Europe do too. To quote a friend of a friend on Facebook: “Now would be a good time to reflect on how to keep everything running with less travelling and change the way we do things” I like that reflection from Minna.

Meanwhile at home I am counting my blessings that our travels were well before the volcanic ash and that we won’t be travelling for a while by plane. Oli travelled by plane yesterday and probably caught one of the very few available but then she was going to Alicante out of the route of the volcanic ash to join Suzy and their friend Juli at our pad in Santa Pola. Just for the record the flight cost her 30 euros taxes included! We shall all be going next weekend, the 5 of us I mean. The girls will be attending a hen party for their friend Merce who lives in Yecla and we shall be visiting Jackie, a friend very much from the past but now recovered on Facebook, that great reuniter of people.

And it’s at home where we have been most of the week and where life has been pretty quiet. I made it to the gym twice for my 25 length swim rewarded by a splash in the jacuzzi and 10 minutes in the sauna afterwards. Otherwise my only excursions have been to the office or food shopping. Mostly, as usual, I have been working from home and there is news on that front too as finally my new desk from Ikea came and now our work space is complete as you can see in the picture below.
Finally my desk from Ikea arrived (right of Eladio's and furthest from the window) and now our new work space is complete.
Food shopping was more important this week than others as we were expecting guests on Friday night. Gerardo and his wife Vicky and his sister Irene and husband Tomas were coming for dinner and everything had to be perfect. We hadn’t had a dinner party for a long time and I spent the best part of the week organising it in my mind. The main objective was to make lovely food that could be prepared beforehand and heated up or eaten cold rather than complicated cooking up to the last minute whilst your guests are arriving which makes me very nervous. So what did I make? Salmorejo for starters (cold gazpacho like soup but thicker and decorated with chopped Spanish ham and egg) and chicken korma (Indian curry) with naans (flat bread). Desert was a fruit salad of strawberries, blackberries and billberries with vanilla ice cream. Judging by the empty plates I think our friends loved it all.
The dinner party at home on Friday, from left to right: Eladio, Gerardo, Vicky, Tomas, Irene and myself
It was great to see them again. As I have written in many earlier posts, I was Gerardo and Irene’s English teacher and lived with their family during my year in Spain in the late 70’s whilst studying Spanish at Nottingham University. Many years passed and we lost contact but thankfully we are now in touch on a regular basis and make a point of having dinner together at least once every two months. Our next date will be at Quënco at the end of May, the restaurant where we had our wedding and which means so much to us all.

This week has been marked by the forces of nature but for me it has also been marked by 2 men who have entered my life unexpectedly. On Wednesday I came back from my walk to find an email from Olivia asking for help with a translation. It was a text from a documentary on the about child sex abuse in Ireland, a subject that has always been close to my heart, maybe because I went to a Catholic school run by Irish nuns or maybe just because I sympathise with the victims. I am a sucker for what is called “mis lit” (misery literature) a prime example for me being Angela’s Ashes. And in the translation I did for Olivia I learned about a heroic Irishman called Colm O’Gorman. He himself was a victim of child sex abuse by the priest in his village when he was a 12 year old altar boy.
Colm O'Gorman, a victim of sexual abuse in Ireland and now head of Amnisty Internation, an exceptional man.
Colm suffered for two and a half years at the hands of this priest. The feeling of guilt, remorse and impotence marked his life and the experience made him feel lost and a misfit in society for nearly 20 years. Colm was finally able to escape from this nightmare existence and he reported the priest who then committed suicide. Afterwards he wrote a book relating his experience and it was through doing so that he was able to rebuild his life. He founded the One in Four Association which is dedicated to victims of sexual abuse in Ireland. Today he continues to fight against abuse from his position of Director of Amnisty International Ireland and to condemn the Catholic Church for covering up these cases throughout the years. I have now ordered his book, Beyond Belief, on and then went on to order more books of the same subject matter.

This investigation led me to a site called Butterflies and Wheels where the victim Marie-Therese O'Loughlin tells of life at St. Vincent’s Industrial school, run by the cruel Sisters of Mercy otherwise known as Goldenbridge and which she calls the secret rosary bead factory.

I was appalled at what I learned yesterday of not just sexual but physical and emotional abuse, of systematic neglect and cruelty to the most vulnerable and which seems to have been widespread in institutions run by the religious orders or in parish churches in Ireland for over a hundred years. The inflictors were priests, nuns and workers in the institutions. I ask myself why and how this was allowed to go on in a catholic country like Ireland? Is it because the priests and nuns themselves were so repressed they needed to take it out on defenseless children? This is a question the Pope may be asking himself today as he addresses abuse victims in Malta. I am sure Colm O’Gorman will be anxious to hear him apologize to them. Meanwhile Colm O’Gorman will be answering questions tomorrow in a digital encounter on I have sent mine in and it is to ask him how this could have happened in such a religious country as Ireland. I don’t think though that even he will have the answer.
The Pope in Malta today to meet with victims of sexual abuse.  Just how could the church have ignored and covered up so many cases of child sex abuse at the hands of its supposed  men of God for so many years???
From Colm O’Gorman I move on to Sergeevich Zherebkov, a notorious Russian or so it seems. Why on earth would I have anything to do with him and who is he anyway you will be probably ask? My Mother’s ex colleague, Richard Davies, from Leeds University has asked me for help in finding out when this gentleman died in Spain for an academic project he is working on. That is the connection, he apparently died in Spain.

This is the information Richard gave me: "I wonder whether you might be able to advise me how to find details of the death in Spain of a rather notorious Russian? His name was Iurii Sergeevich Zherebkov (b 1908) and he was the German-appointed head of the Russian community in Paris during WWII. After a period of imprisonment after the war, he found refuge in Franco's Spain. The daughter of Nikolay Andreyev, whom your parents knew in Cambridge, met him in the 1970s and last heard from him in 1980, when he was living at Alcantara 38, Madrid 28006 under the name of Wolkow. It is possible he moved from there and died near Malaga. I have no sense at all of the Spanish system of registration of deaths, or of anything similar organised by the Russian Orthodox Church in Spain, and am at a bit of a loss to know where to start looking. So any pointers would be very welcome".

I had been putting off helping Richard for months as I just didn’t know where to start. He suggested the civil register of course or the Russian Church in Spain, neither of which I am familiar with. As he pressured me for help, I involved Eladio and getting nowhere with the civil register (no online service and not enough information to ask for a death certificate) we finally reached Father Kordochkin of the Russian Church in Madrid. I spoke to him on Friday and he has promised to help via old Russians who live in Madrid and may have known Zherebkov or Wolkow and I am sure he will consult the church records.

Wow the Russian Church in Madrid! Talking to Father Kordochkin certainly stirred the Russian Orthodox blood in me and memories of icons and incense and candles and Church Slavonic singing at Easter with my Mother and Aunty Masha returned with nostalgia. When Father Kordochkin returned my call he greeted me by saying Xhristos Voskresi (Christ has risen) to which I haltingly replied the same. I remember those words being repeatedly sung during the Russian Orthodox Easter services and to hear those words again tugged at my heartstrings and reminded me of my Russian roots. Maybe I will visit the Russian church here now.
A typical Russian Orthodox church, the religion I was brought up in.  There are no churches more beautiful in the world than these.
Other things happened this week too such as an earthquake in China, but too remote to tug at the world’s heartstrings after so many other tragedies. It coincided with the Icelandic Volcano the repercussions of which affected the western world to a much greater extent and news of the earthquake has been relegated to the back pages of the world’s newspapers.
The earthquake in a remote region of China this week which the world largely ignored
And with that news my blog post for this week has come to an end. Now all I have to do is edit the text, upload the content, include the website links and of course include the photographs, all of which will take me at least another hour. Gosh my blog does require some effort but then anything worth doing always does. After that we will be going for a walk, this time armed with umbrellas and proper attire in case it rains again. Later we will be going out to dinner as today is an up day (hurray) and also look forward to the girls returning from Alicante later tonight.

Meanwhile I hope you all have a good week. I certainly intend to do so.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Back from the USA, visitors from abroad and a trip to Segovia, a disaster in Poland and other stories.

Bernard, Adele,me and Eladio outside Cándido in Segovia with the Roman Aqueduct

Hi again another Sunday in Spring

The weather has changed for the better and the sun is shining. So I saw fit to change the design of my blog, thanks to the new Blogger templates of course. I hope you like it.

My main headline this week is “Back from the USA” in reference to the famous song but of course to our trip and actually we are still under its influence. The jet lag remained with us for some days and was not helped by the fact that the clocks in our house were a total mess as a result of our not being here when the clocks went forward. So most of the week I didn’t really know what date it was and was mixed up with what time it was too. We keep talking about our trip and looking at the photos and on Friday I took a huge selection to be printed as I’ll be doing a special album on our trip as I do with most and which includes lots of the memorabilia.

We are enjoying all the things we bought and I have been wearing my pink Converse boots with my pink hooded New York sweat shirt which I adore, my I love New York t-shirt with my red Keds as well as the lovely spring cardigans I got from Banana Republic. Eladio has been wearing his Levi gear too and the girls their Abercrombie t-shirts. My Father, of course has been enjoying his Hershey’s American chocolates. When I asked him what he wanted us to bring him from the States that was what he asked for. I had never heard of them but they were everywhere, perhaps one of the few American brands which haven’t crossed the Atlantic.
Me in my pink hooded New York sweat shirt
No longer had we got back then we were to receive our visitors from abroad, Adele and Bernard on Sunday morning. I went to University with Adele and recently met up with her and Sandra and their partners in Brussels. So this was the second time we were meeting in two months after 25 years or so. Adele is a teacher of English at the University of Orleans (I think that’s right) and Bernard is her delightful artistic husband (he copies original masters painstakingly and beautifully) who earns his living as a psychiatrist. I don’t know if I told you their story. To cut it short Adele met her first husband whilst studying French at Nottingham University with me in the late 70’s. They married and she went to live in France where they set up their home and had 4 boys. Some years ago the marriage went sour out of no fault of hers and my darling Adele went to see a psychiatrist. The rest of the story you can guess. Bernard and Adele have now been married some 9 years and emanate happiness and love. They make a wonderful couple. They were visiting Madrid for their Easter holiday and had stayed in a hotel in the centre but were coming to stay as soon as we returned from New York and would be with us until last Thursday.
Bernard and Adele
We went to pick them up on Sunday, Easter day and I made a roast chicken lunch followed by of course the huge Easter egg I was given by my events agency. Thanks girls it was great. In the afternoon we went for a long walk in Boadilla where we got lost and ended up walking for over 2 hours!!! I suppose that might have helped work off the excess chocolate except that we had some more for dinner after the Spanish potato omelette we made for our visitors from abroad, commonly called tortilla here.

We love having visitors and many of them seem to be international which definitely befits this household. Last year Amanda and Andy from the UK came to stay and more recently Pernille and Thomas from Denmark. In July, with great excitement, we will be hosting Oli’s Indian friends from her Erasmus year, dearest Sandeep and Sumit. That is going to be a rollercoaster visit from abroad I just know it.

On Monday we took them to Segovia via the scenic mountain route and they were amazed to see the snow topped mountains outside Madrid in the Sierra de Guadarrama with peaks over 2.000 metres. You can ski there in the winter and it is a popular destination for a lot of Madrileños at the weekend. That amazes most people who probably don’t know that Madrid is actually the highest capital in Europe.
The Peñalara peak in the Guadarrama mountains outside Madrid.  It is 2.428 metres high.
Segovia is a pretty little town outside Madrid famous for its aqueduct, one of the best preserved monuments left by the Romans in the Iberian Peninsula which crosses right across the town and is absolutely spectacular. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and certainly deserves to be so.
The Roman aqueduct in Segovia.
But Segovia also has a magnificent gothic cathedral and 15th century castle which looks like it’s straight out of a fairy tale, both of which we visited of course with Adele and Bernard.
The Gothic cathedral in Segovia.

The 15th century castle in Segovia
Once in Segovia we chanced upon an outdoor exhibition of photographs representing the history of Spain in the last 100 years from Spain’s news agency, Efe. We enjoyed it thoroughly and couldn’t get away. In this photo you can spot Eladio, Adele and Bernard walking around the exhibition.
Adele, Bernard and Eladio at the outdoor exhibition of photos of a 100 year's of Spain's history in Segovia
It was magnificent with some stunning photographs such as this one of 3 nannies competing in a nanny competition in the 1930s.
One of the photos in the exhibition: a nanny competition in the 1930s
What dragged us away eventually were an empty stomach and the lure of our lunch date. It was at Segovia’s equally famous Mesón de Cándido where the speciality is suckling pig. Below is a photograph of Mr. Cándido himself cutting the pig with a plate, a tradition in these parts. Most tourists think paella is Spain’s national dish but here they are wrong. Paella is a regional dish from the Valencian region but I would never put it in my top ten. Spain has many culinary delights which vary from region to region, many of which are “spoon eating dishes” (platos de cuchara) made with chick peas or other types of pulses. But Spain’s best kept culinary secret must surely be its suckling lamb and pork, both of which are Cándido’s star dishes especially the latter.
Mr. Cándido cutting the suckling pig with a plate, a tradition in Segovia.
We were given a privileged table right by one of the windows overlooking the Aqueduct. Here is a photograph to prove it.
Tuesday was back to work and Adele and Bernard commuted into Madrid to enjoy the delights of the Prado and Thyssen museums. They loved them both but especially the Thyssen Bornemisza which Bernard thought was the best museum he had ever visited. I must go back there then. We had a last night dinner at a favourite Spanish (well Basque) place in Pozuelo with the unpronounceable and impossible to write name of La Txitxarrería. Here we laughed ourselves silly and drank a glass or so too much of Rioja wine and even cider, but hey life is good and a few excesses every now and again do no harm or so Bernard the psychiatrist commented. I totally agree. It was great having them and I really hope we meet again soon. We certainly won’t be leaving it another 25 years hahaha.
Eladio and Bernard outside La Txitxarrería where we went for dinner on their last night.
On Friday, the day after they left, both Suzy and I resumed our diet (the up and down one) and I returned to the gym to start swimming again. I now have to work off all the excesses and get into even better shape for the summer, poor me. The weather, as I said at the beginning, has been so good that we got some of the garden furniture out and we have been sitting outside reading. In fact right now I am writing from the table on the swimming pool terrace listening to Eladio and Suzy talk in the background as I write. Suzy in fact is waiting for her friends and they will be spending the afternoon sun bathing!

New York was great but it's nice to be home. The weekend has been quiet with no visitors, just doing domestic chores including a lot of homemade cooking, mostly soups of various kinds. I make them and freeze some a lot so's there's a big supply for my Father's dinners and ours of course. Here is the pumpkin soup I made today. It's made of pumpkin, carrot, cabbage and potato with a splash of olive oil and skimmed milk as well as salt, pepper and parsley and tastes just great.
The pumpkin soup I made today
I had to do some food shopping yesterday which is something I don’t usually do as that's my Father's and Eladio's responsibility. However we had run out of nearly everything so off I went to the local gourmet store (not the local Mercadona supermarket for me which is where they go).  I combined it with coffee with Fátima, her daughter with the same name and her mother. Her mother lives on and off in Marbella and is always inviting us to use her flat. In fact I think we will maybe in May. I don’t know if I've ever told you but our plan is to retire there; yeah a great big pad within walking distance of a nice beach and shared garden and pool and fabulous views. It has to be big to fit our daughters and their eventual husbands and kids. Staying at Gloria's place in Marbella may well give us a feel of what our plan turned true could be like.

Whilst I was having a coffee with Fátima, a disaster for the people of Poland had already taken place. Yesterday morning President Lech Kaczynski and his wife and scores of other senior Polish figures were killed in a plane crash in Russia near Smolensk. Ironically they were on their way to an event in Katyn to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the terrible massacre there of 20.000 Polish officers by the Russians in the Second World War. More than 95 people were killed in a terrible tragedy for Poland and according to Prime Minister Donald Tusk, the worst the country had experienced since the war.
The air crash that killed the President of Poland and his wife as well as other top politicians in Smolensk Russia yesterday
The worlds' leaders sent their condolences and even in yesterday nights “el clásico” match between Madrid and Barcelona the players were wearing black ribbons and a minute of silence was held before the match in honour of those who lost their lives in the crash.

The “clasico”(derby in English) is one of Spain's most important sports events of the year and there is a lot of hype around it all sparked by the eternal rivalry between the 2 cities. I of course always want Real Madrid to win even though the matches themselves interest me a lot less than other sports such as cycling or tennis. It was not to be though and the duel between Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo was won by the former who scored the first of Barcelona's 2 goals to Real Madrid's 0.
Messi, the Argentinian player for Barcelona who scored their first goal in their victory against Madrid yesterday
Sunday, the day after the clásico, has been quiet and filled with the domestic tasks I mentioned above plus dealing with lots of laundry. After writing my blog I am looking forward to a bit of reading in the shade and to our friends, Roberto and MariCarmen, coming to join us on our walk this evening. In sum the kind of Sunday I needed after coming back from the USA.

And that's it for this week. Hope you all have a good one,

Cheers for now Masha
PS You can see the full set of photos of Adele and Bernard's visit here.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Our trip to New York, “this is America Mam”, a reunion in New Jersey and all about the Big Apple.

This photo was taken in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan in a moment of madness during our trip.
Hi my friends,

Here I am writing at terminal 7 of JFK waiting for our Iberia flight surrounded by a group of American kids going to Madrid to practise their Spanish. Whilst their holiday is starting, ours is over and you know what? It was great.

Our first time in the New York was as good as we had expected, the only down part being the cold and rain at the beginning. Right now as we are leaving it is over 20ºc and the sun is shining but then that’s Murphy’s Law for you. We were hosted by our friends Javier and Ana who live in NYC (actually round the corner from Michael Douglas, yeah and near John Lennon’s house, Dakota Towers on Central Park West) who came to pick us up and also to take us to the airport this morning. Thanks guys, it was great to have friends in town.
Eladio in Central Park opposite John Lennon's house
New York is a great city in many ways. I feel it is the capital of the world at least as far as money and trade are concerned as well as tourism. One of the biggest cities in the globe, it is home to more than 8 million people and is a total melting pot. You hear every language on the street but mostly English and Spanish. I think one could live here knowing only Spanish and maybe that is one of the reasons so many Spaniards come to visit. I read somewhere that 48% of the population of the big cities in the US are Spanish speaking. We heard that there is no official language in the States. Imagine. The Latins as they are known now outnumber the American Africans who used to represent 15% of the country’s population. There are many people of all origins and apart from the Latins or Hispanics and American Africans the most numerous origins are probably German, Polish, Italian, Chinese and now Bangladesh and even India. And of course the USA has an enormous Jewish population. Someone told us that more Jews lived in New York than in Tel Aviv which seems quite believable as we saw lots of them around. Many of them are Orthodox and it seems to me they live in ghettos and parallel to society in their own little world. They dress traditionally and stick out even in the NYC crowds.
There are many Orthodox Jews who dress like this in New York.
New York is also known as The Big Apple and there seem to be various explanations for the term none of which have anything to do with the fruit. One was about the fever for building in the 19th century and it was said that everyone wanted a piece of the apple. Another explanation comes from jazz performing. Apparently an old saying in show business is “there are many apples on the tree but only one big apple”, New York being the premier place to perform. The reason for the term may also have to do with horse racing when a writer, John Fitzgerald referred to the New York City race courses as the Big Apple. Since 1971 apparently it became an official reference to the city and very fitting it is too or so I think.

New York has some great attractions and sites to see but I actually found the types of people equally interesting. You get fat and thin, less fat than you expect but some very obese people waddling down the avenues. You meet polite Mexican waiters, like Pedro from our hotel who entered the States illegally when he was 13, or sociable and outgoing American Africans like Travis who cleaned Eladio’s shoes for 4 bucks on Broadway and lives in Brooklyn.
Travis from Brooklyn who cleaned Eladio's shoes on Broadway. I have promised to send him this photo and I will.
You would meet people dressed up in the streets like the living Statue of Liberty that illustrates this blog, people dressed like Star Wars characters in Broadway or outgoing and un self conscious street vendors like this lovely lady who sold me a ring for 1 dollar. New York has room for them all.
The lovely street vendor who sold me a ring for one dollar on Broadway.
We even met Spiderman in Times Square and couldn’t resist snapping this picture. I was told there is a naked cowboy in that legendary square but we never found him.
We even met Spiderman in Times Square.
New York is now apparently much safer than in the 70’s and 80’s. You see policemen and police cars on every street so that doesn’t really surprise me.
A photo with 2 NYC cops, a grand moment for me.
It’s not that clean though. Rubbish bags (all the rubbish is separated) line the streets, which is ugly and the streets are in desperate need of repaving. When it rains the streets flood as well as the metro or subway as it is called here. Food is sold in the street in enormous quantities which is probably very convenient for the non sitting down New Yorker lunch eaters but the smell invades the streets and can only contribute to the pollution. What also adds to the smells is the occasional street pipe blowing out steam from underground which you see quite often. I’ve never seen anything like it elsewhere and still don’t know what it’s for.
Pipes that blow steam from underground. I still don't know why but you see them everywhere.
Manhattan is 21.5km long and 3.7km wide at its widest point. Everything seems so near but you end up walking for hours. It’s terribly easy to find your way around because most of the island’s streets are based on a grid system. The main avenues (1 to 12) are crossed by numbered streets either west (Hudson river) or East (Eastern river). Directions always refer to the two numbers much more than the number of the street. Thus our hotel was at 7th Avenue with 56th street rather than 870 7th Avenue.

People flock here to shop in their millions, Europeans mostly because of the strong Euro. There is a choice of goods for everyone, starting with fashion (yes we Europeans now know what Abercrombie and Fitch is), footwear (there are Converse shoes in every shoe shop and Uggs, those ghastly Australian fur boots are on sale at every corner) as well as electronics, perfumes and souvenirs and anything else that takes your fancy. All in all some 40 million people visit New York every year. That’s a lot of people.
I discovered Abercrombie and Fitch the latest rage in fashion in NYC. Here I am coming out with a bag with t-shirts for Suzy and Oli.
Everyone buys the I love New York t-shirts at 5 for 10 dollars and I of course am carrying my 5. They are made in Honduras and I wonder how many millions are sold each year. Nearly every second shop is a souvenir shop and there are also souvenir stands lining the streets. It seems there are buyers for everything on sale. You can also buy imitation brand goods at these stands and no one seems to mind. I have a nice imitation black patent Prada bag in my suitcase I am looking forward to using in Madrid. I love Prada but refuse to pay the price for the real stuff. One of the places I had high recommendations to visit was the Prada store in Soho. We went past it yesterday and only dared enter when someone opened the door to go in. The store is unique. Eladio thought the black sales girl was much more beautiful than any of the bags!! It seems to me the staff are chosen very carefully as they were all extremely attractive.
The must visit Prada store in Soho even if you are not buying anything like me.
But above all New York is larger than life, big, oh so big. Everything is big, the enormous skyscrapers like the Empire State Building (we went up that of course as our first attraction) which has over 100 floors or the GE Building of the Rockerfeller Centre.
The view of the Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock.
The Empire State and the GE buildings of the Rockerfeller Centre may be the tallest but the building I liked most in Manhattan is the Flatiron Building, or Fuller Building as it was originally called and which is located at 175 Fifth Avenue. It is considered to be one of the first skyscrapers ever built. Upon completion in 1902 it was one of the tallest buildings in the city. The unique triangular building sits on a triangular island in between 5th Avenue and Broadway and maybe that inspired its architect.
The unique Flatiron building in between 5th Avenue and Brodway, my favourite building in New York. I wonder if it's called that because it looks like a flat iron?
It’s not just the buildings but the streets which are both long and wide. Broadway is the longest and runs the whole length of Manhattan. That's pretty long for a street but then Broadway is not just any street. One day we walked half of it from Battery Park in the southern tip of Downtown to our hotel, the Park Central in 7th Avenue in Midtown which took us a few hours. You walk everywhere in Manhattan. The cars are big too, though you don’t get the gas guzzlers you used to in the 80’s. Even so you still see the odd stretch limousine. If you want to hire one they cost over 100 euros per hour and the minimum time for hire is 2 hours. Needless to say we walked or yellow cabbed it. Cabs are not expensive in Manhattan and there are plenty of them.
Everything is big in America including cars of course, like this limousine parked outside our hotel.
It’s the food portions which are so big. Whatever you ask for comes in huge quantities and layered with French fries as the Americans call chips. At the very American and superb steak house recommended to me by Julio, Smith and Wollensky on 3rd Avenue, I hesitatingly asked the waiter if the portion would be big to which he answered me in his Eastern European accent: “This is America Mam” to which I could only laugh and accept. It’s true most things are big but restaurant tables for example are minuscule with the hefty platters hardly fitting on the tables. That is of course to fit as many people in as possible and make more money, something the Americans are very good at.
Food portions are gigantic and when I commented that a waiter answered "this is America Mam" to which I could only laugh in reply. This was the steak we had at Smith and Wollensky, great place on 3rd Avenue.
Dogs also deserve a special mention in this post on the Big Apple. They are everywhere and seem to be a much more privileged species than in other parts of the world. Especially in Central Park and in Central Park West you see very fancy dogs wearing coats, trousers and even shoes in the cold weather. We were told by our Cuban guide to Harlem that dogs in these parts of Manhattan even had psychiatrists to look after their mental health!!! There are special areas for dogs inside parks and the “doings” are quickly scooped up by the dog owner or the dog walker whichever the case. Yes some people are so rich or so lazy they pay other people to take their dogs for a walk. I saw quite a few like the chap in the picture below with various dogs whom I snapped on our last morning in Central Park.
A professional dog walker in Central Park. We saw many all over Manhattan.
I keep referring to New York but mostly I mean Manhattan just one of the boroughs and which is an island surrounded by the Hudson and Eastern Rivers. We learned that New York has 5 boroughs, some very well known such as Brooklyn and The Bronx or Queens but also Staten Island which you get to by ferry. We spent nearly all of our time in Manhattan except for one night when we had dinner in Brooklyn (right under the famous bridge) with our friends Javier and Ana at the wonderful River Café restaurant where gentlemen have to wear a jacket. It has the most amazing views of the NYC skyline. Another recommendation from Julio (and David).
Dinner at the River Café with Javier and Ana. It is in Brooklyn right under the bridge and has marvellous views and even better food.
The only other time we left Manhattan was for a reunion dinner with Angel and Rosa who live in Milford in New Jersey, the state next to New York and only some 15 miles away. Angel and Rosa were our friends when we first started living in Madrid. On my first day at my first job with the arms export company, Defex, Rosa of Cuban American origin joined too. Rosa and her Spanish husband Angel, who was a Professor of mathematics at the Autónoma University in Madrid at the time, lived nearby in Saconia. We became firm friends and Rosa played a major role in the organisation of our wedding. Her family lived in New Jersey and she missed them and the country she had grown up in and some 25 years ago they decided to move back. We parted young women who had just started their families and we met again last week as middle aged women whose children have flown or are fleeing the nest. It was a very emotional reunion and just lovely to see them again. As Angel said, I hope it won’t be another 25 years before we see each other again, hahaha. But now with internet it will be much easier to stay in contact and hopefully we may see them this summer in Alicante where Angel’s brothers and sisters live.
Rosa and Angel, our friends from when we started married life in Madrid and who went to live in New Jersey some 25 years ago. I hadn't seen Rosa since we were young women. It was a lovely reunion.
I had come armed with recommendations from friends and we would have needed 2 months in the city to try them all out. We tried out as many as we could and our thanks go especially to Juana, Marta, David and Julio for all their advice of things to do and places to see. The best piece of advice was getting the New York Pass in advance on internet. You not only save money on all the attractions, but most important of all you skip the queues in many places.

So what did we see and what did we do? We saw an awful lot and walked our feet off the ground. There is just so much on offer and we wanted to make the most of our trip, our first time in the capital of the world.

Our first day, FRIDAY was spent visiting and walking through Times Square, one of the most jaw dropping places I’ve been too. It reminded me of Piccadilly Circus in London but is bigger and has more multimedia billboards that are absolutely gigantic.
In Times Square on our first day. It's a very wow place.
From here we walked via Broadway to the renowned 5th Avenue and were bowled over by the glamour and skyscrapers.
Happy on 5th Avenue, one of the most famous streets in the world if not the most.
Our destination was the Empire State Building and we were not disappointed. We went up to floor 86 and could not believe our eyes when we saw the views. Eladio commented it would have been worth coming to the US just for this.
The amazing view of South Manhattan from the top of the Empire State Building.
From the Empire State building we took our first yellow cab to the Meatpacking District to have lunch at Pastis which everyone had recommended. It was full and we got a tiny tiny table but the food was good. Having spotted the financial district and seen the skyline where the twin towers used to be, we both felt that we just had to go there. We walked from the restaurant along the West Side Highway along the Hudson River and it must have been more than 3 kilometres until we reached Ground Zero.
By the Hudson river on our walk to Ground Zero. Freezing but a superb walk.
Everyone was gravitating here. If you are visiting New York everyone wants to see it, except that there’s nothing to see but a big hole and work going on I think to build a new and taller Tower 1. Tower 2 will not be rebuilt. We learned that on 9/11 there were some 2.5 million people working in the city and that they were all evacuated via emergency services as all public transport had halted. We visited the Tribute WTC visitor centre and I must admit I cried when I saw the big list of deceased in the blast. 9/11 hit New York really hard and they will never forget but the city has bounced back and is as vibrant as it always was.
The list of the deceased after 9/11 at the WTC Tribute centre. There were boxes of tissues on the benches and I had to use some. Awesome was the right word to describe what that list means to us all.
Wanting to see more we walked through some of the city towards the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge over the Eastern river which we very much wanted to cross. Boy was it cold but boy was it a marvellous thing to do with some amazing views. It was the longest bridge in the world when it opened in 1903 and the first one to be made with steel. Today it is a bit rusty but still going strong. It connects Brooklyn to Manhattan and has been used in countless films as many other places in New York have.
Me on the legendary Brooklyn bridge that connects to Manhattan.
Exhausted and frozen we decided to take refuge in the famous Bloomingdale store and took a cab there. I had a quick look at the jeans and saw prices ranging from 150 dollars upwards so decided against purchasing any there. That evening we were so tired that we had dinner in the hotel and it was during the dinner that we met Pedro, the Mexican from Puebla. He treated us to the desert. Lovely guy.

The next day, SATURDAY, was sunny but even colder. After a breakfast of wonderful waffles and maple syrup (yes I’ve had that every morning for breakfast along with a toasted bagel, so my diet has gone out of the wind whilst in New York. I’m human aren’t I?), we walked to 5th Avenue for a photo of Tiffany’s made eternally famous by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I don’t know why it’s called that as you can’t get breakfast there, hahaha.
Outside Tiffany's in 5th Avenue for a photo of course, not to go in or to have breakfast hahaha
Our destination was Central Park which was very near our hotel and here we wanted to take a horse and carriage ride recommended to me by my dear friend Sandra from Brussels. So Oliver and his horse The Spirit took us on our 20 minute ride covered with a thick blanket thank goodness. Here what most impressed me was seeing the outdoor skating rink which featured in Love Story.
In the horse and carriage that takes you on a 20 minute tour of Central Park, a lovely ride to take.
Oliver in his very thick New York accent pointed out many points of interest including the buildings in which the rich and famous owned their condominiums as the Americans call flats or apartments. So we saw where Pavorotti and John Lennon used to live and where Angelina Jolie or Diana Ross live and the building Onassis bought for Jacqueline Kennedy when they married or the various buildings owned by the multi millionaire Donald Trump.
Oliver our driver and The Spirit his horse who took us on a tour of Central Park.
From Central Park we made our way to the MOMA also on 5th Avenue and here we bowled over by the art we saw. I think there were more Picassos than in any other museum in the world including those in his home country. I was happy to see Andy Warhol art such as the head of the beautiful Marilyn Monroe or the Campbells’ soup cans, the Starry night by Van Gogh, the Drowing Girl by Lichtenstein and the many paintings by Cezanne, Gaughin, Matisse, Kandinsky, Modigliani or Gustav Klimt to mention just a few. The Moma also has a design shop with great kitchen equipment and we bought a few items including a multi coloured food board both for ourselves and our friends Ana and Javier and Rosa and Angel. It will now be forever known at home as the Moma board.
The famous Andy Warhol Soup cans at the Moma museum which I adored.
From Moma we made our way to by cab to Prince Street in Soho for lunch at Fanelli’s café recommended to me by Vicente who said they made the best hamburgers in town and they did. The afternoon was spent shopping mostly for shoes at places like Zacky’s in Broadway from where we walked back to our hotel for a short rest before being joined by Ana and Javier to see Times Square during the Earth Hour. We had hoped the lights would go off at 20.30 but the initiative at least there was a bit of a flop. In any case it was impressive to see Times Square at night in all its glory, something we never tired of throughout our stay.
Times Square at night is magical.
Afterwards we took a cab to Javier and Ana’s house where their kids were waiting for us for dinner. We loved their New York condominium near Central Park with its high ceilings and wooden floors. It was great to see Ignacio, Laura, Cristina and Maria again and to hear how well they are getting on in the Big Apple.
Javier and Ana and their kids Ignacio, Laura, Cristina and Maria who now live in New York. They were great hosts.
SUNDAY was spent seeing more of the sights. We visited St. Patrick’s catholic cathedral which was full owing to it being Palm Sunday. It’s so funny to see a gothic style church amongst all the sky scrapers but there are many in New York. We also learned that there are more than 1.600 religions in the US! After a quick incursion into a lovely shop called the Banana Republic where I bought some pretty pastel Spring cardigans, we stumbled upon the famous Rockerfeller centre where an ice skating exhibition was going on. The place was magical with all the flags of the world, gardens and shops and people watching the skating. Our mission here was to go the Top of the Rock as the top of the highest building in the Rockerfeller centre is called. They say the views are better than those from the Empire State. I’m not sure I agree. What is nice though is that you can see the Empire State Building close up from the Top of the Rock.
Love this picture called "Lunchtime" which you can find at the Top of the Rock.
From here we made our way on foot to another landmark in Manhattan, the Grand Central Terminal which is the biggest train station in the world and a marvellous feat of architecture with its enormous marble lobby. Here we had lunch at Juniors on the ground floor, a place recommended to us by Sandra. Once again they had great burgers.
In the Grand Central Terminal, the biggest train station in the world.
To work off the food we walked all the way to Columbus Circle on 8th Avenue before going back to our hotel to be picked up later by Angel for dinner at their home in New Jersey. On our way we passed Times Square and chanced upon a shop called Champs where we bought Eladio a lovely pair of Timberland walking shoes. At Columbus Circle apart from a statue to Columbus, Time Warner has its HQ where CNN is broadcast from and where there is also a luxurious mall.
At Columbus Circle.
The next day was MONDAY and our 4th day in New York and time for some more culture. We wanted to go to the Met, otherwise known as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Central Park on 5th Avenue but it was closed as are most museums the world round on a Monday. Instead we visited Madame Tussauds in Broadway as the entrance was included in our New York Pass. We had a lot of fun there taking photos with all the famous people in wax from the past and the present. The best picture of all is the one with Barack and Michelle Obama. It looks so authentic. What a laugh.
This is probably the best photo of our whole trip, here with the Obamas. I hate to admit it was not in the White House but at Madam Tussauds on 42nd street, hahaha.
It rained all day Monday and we got wet trying to walk to the United Nations building on the East river. As it was lunchtime when we got there we decided to keep our lunch appointment at Balthazar’s in Soho (recommended to me by Gloria and Julio) and return later. The lunch was good, this time lobster instead of a burger and the place was full of life. Unfortunately we were not able to visit the UN later as you had to order the guided tour tickets in advance and we hadn’t. That was our first disappointment.
The United Nations on the east side right by the Eastern River, pretty impressive to be here.
We walked all our way back to the hotel as we did most days and flopped on the bed before going out to dinner again, this time to a place recommended to me by Andrew Dale called The Russian Tea Room. The place was round the corner from our hotel and turned out to be wonderful. The decor was very typical of Tsarist Russia with lots of red and gold and the food amazing. We were warned the recipes were not completely authentic but in the end it didn’t matter as the borsch (beetroot and vegetable soup) was as good or better than any my Mother ever made and the strogonov out of this world if slightly different to any I have ever eaten. If you like things Russian and are ever in the area, do go there. You will not be disappointed.
At the Russian Tea Room round the corner from our hotel. Loved it and would go again any day. Their borsch is as good as my Mother's was.
On TUESDAY the rain increased and people’s umbrellas got broken in the effort of sheltering from the rain in the wind. There was no other option than going to a museum. So today was the day to visit the Met. Today was also the day we used the subway (what the Americans say instead of metro) and although it’s supposed to be easy it’s not that easy if it’s your first time. On our way to the stop for the Met we did a sort of Pied Piper of Hamlyn collecting other tourists on our way, amongst them a Swiss girl and a German boy who we later saw twice, once in Harlem and once at our hotel. The world is very small.

We made our way to the Met with the rest of New York escaping the rain as we all crowded in to one of the biggest and best museums of the world. We just didn’t know where to start.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, very impressive but too much to see.
Should it be the Egyptian section, the Roman section, the collection of musical instruments or shoes or the old masters or the Impressionists? We decided on Tutenkhaman’s funeral exhibition and from there went to see the old masters, our overall favourites. Here we visited all 30 odd rooms and marvelled over Vermeer’s Young Woman with a water pitcher, one of Renoir’s self portraits, The Calmady children by Sr. Thomas Lawrence, amazing Velázquez’s including María Teresa, the Infanta of Spain and daughter of Philip IV as well as the El Grecos. I just loved the miracle of Christ healing the blind by the Greco Spanish painter. Then there were the Italian masters: Fra Angelico, Canaletto (Piazza San Marco), Botticelli, Fra Filippo Lippi, and Tintoretto, the English painters: Gainsborough, Reynolds and the other great Spanish masters of the art such as Murillo, Zurbarán, Ribera, and Goya.
The girl with the water pitcher by the Dutch master Vermeer, one of the Met's most famous paintings.
After the great masters we couldn’t take any more art in and so left the Met with a heavy heart, hoping to visit the Russian Orthodox church of St. Nicholas but it was too far and too wet to get to unfortunately. So in the end we went straight to lunch to Smith and Wollensky where the waiter said: “this is America Mam”. We spent the afternoon listening to Spotify, uploading photos to Facebook on a slow internet connection and generally relaxed until dinner with Ana and Javier at the River Café which I mentioned earlier.

On WEDNESDAY the rain finally left us although it was still very cold. This was the day we did the Harlem Gospel tour, our only guided tour and it was a great experience. Harlem as we all know is the African American centre of the USA. Our first stop was the main street where we took pictures of the famous Appolo theatre where the young Michael Jackson sang with the Jackson Five.
The Apollo theatre in Harlem where Michael Jackson sang as a child with the Jackson Five.
We went past the equally famous Theresa hotel where Fidel Castro stayed with Kruyschev in the 60’s in the middle of the cold war. From here we made our way via the City College where Colin Powel studied to see Paul Robeson's house, the man who made the songs Old Man River and Swing Low Sweet Chariot so famous.
Paul Robson of Old Man River fame's house in Harlem.
Across the road from where he lived is the oldest house in Manhattan known as the Morris Jummel Mansion which was once George Washington’s headquarters in Manhattan.
The oldest mansion in Manhattan used as George Washington's HQ in the island.
But the main objective of visiting Harlem was to witness the gospel singing at one of the churches. We went to the Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church for the Wednesday service and found the whole experience very uplifting. There was very little prayer or preaching. People stood up spontaneously to recount how their lives had improved thanks to God and people clapped and stood up. Then the gospel singing began and the whole church came alive. The voices were magnificent. People clapped and danced and the saxophone was playing and there was a great atmosphere in this particular house of God. Apparently the birth of gospel singing has to do with the first African American converts to Protestantism. They read a psalm which said that God should be praised by singing and that was the birth of this type of worship. We loved the experience. The tip came from my friend Sandra who said she knew I would love it. Well I did, thanks Sandie.
Gospel singing in Harlem, an uplifiting experience to say the least.
After the tour we were left at a unique road in Manhattan, Restaurant row which is on 9th avenue with 46th street. Here you can literally take your pick of food and nationality. Being in American, we once again chose Yankee food. Lunch was a short affair as we wanted to catch the Circle Line cruise around the island at 15h which leaves at Pier 83 on 12th Avenue with West 42nd Street, another recommendation, this time from Juana.
On the Circle line cruise that goes round the island of Manhattan.
Here we got a close view of the Statue of Liberty, that unique symbol of America, as well as Ellis Island where the immigrants used to disembark and of course of the New York sky line from all sides.
The Statue of Liberty, probably the number one attraction in New York.
After the cruise we had 2 disappointments. The Intrepid (air craft carrier) sea-air-space museum right next to Pier 83 was closed as was the famous B+H Jewish owned unique camera store, due to Passover and would not reopen until 7th April.
Eladio by the Intrepid aircraft carrier on the Hudson River and part of the Sea-air-space museum which also includes a BA Concorde.
On our last full day, THURSDAY, the sun finally came out and we decided to visit Downtown and see it properly. We actually took a bus, the M1 outside the National Library on 5th Avenue and got off at Battery Park where the ferries leave for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The queues were enormous and as we had already seen the statue the day before we decided to remain on land and visit the city. It was here we had our photo taken with a living statue of liberty (at 10 dollars a shot!). From here we walked to the financial district, to Wall Street, the NYSE and Federal Hall and marvelled at where we were.
The NYSE on 4 Wall Street, kind of impressive to be there.
We then crossed the road to visit the Trinity Root at the church of the same name near Ground Zero. The story goes that a sycamore tree from the nearby St. Paul’s Chapel protected the latter from damage during the blast of 11/9 and was found uprooted at Trinity Church. A sculptor then turned it into a sculpture to honour the fallen from the Twin Towers. It is quite unique I must say.
The Trinity Root, the sycamore tree that was uprooted after the 11/9 blasts and was turned into a sculpture.
It was outside Trinity Church that Eladio had his shoes cleaned by Travis from Brooklyn for 4 bucks only. We also visited St. Paul’s chapel which played an important role during the aftermath of the blast as a refuge place for the rescue workers. Here you can see a lot of the 9/11 memorabilia as well as George Washington’s pew where he prayed after having been sworn in as America’s first President at the nearby Federal Hall.
Tear jerking 9/11 memorabilia at St. Paul's Chapel which served as a refuge for rescue workers
From St. Paul’s we walked down Broadway (from number 1 – we later walked all the way to number 1370 odd, a good 10 kilometres!) to Fulton Street where we ventured into Abercrombie and Fitch and into the South Park and Pier 17 area, a very commercial part of Downtown. After lunch in the open air, we started our long walk to our hotel all along Broadway. In doing so we passed the cool Tribeca area, the trendy Soho district where the Prada store is and the quaint Greenwich Village. On our way we stopped for a rest at City Hall Park, Union Squre (so alive and so many people) and Madison Square Park until we reached Herald Square where you can find the largest store in the world, the famous Macy’s. By then we had done so much street shopping and were carrying so many bags, that we had no desire to enter it. One thing we did on our way was to enter the proverbial Starbucks for a coffee. I mean you can’t go to America without having a coffee there and actually they are quite good.
Eladio in a Starbucks in the financial district.
Soon we were in Times Square again which was busier than ever and here we peaked into Toys R Us and saw the carousel inside. Imagine a shop with a roundabout inside. So big, yes, well this is America isn’t it? On our way we enjoyed seeing all the different people, black Americans, Jews, US Marines enjoying New York, people playing chess in the parks, kids performing in the street some sort of gym cum acrobatics, a man with a beagle who upon command turned into praying mode, Spider Man, characters from Star Wars, everyone everywhere on the phone (mostly blackberries or iPhones), a video clip being filmed on Broadway and of course hordes of tourists like us.
My Marines looking too good to be true I just had to ask them if I could take their photo.
We were just too tired that night to go out to dinner so got some ready to eat food from a “deli” round the corner from our hotel and ate it in our room.

And finally FRIDAY, yesterday, our last day came. As we always say at home: “all good things come to an end”. But it was not quite the end as after packing (our suitcases were bursting with stuff) we checked out, left our luggage with the concierge and made our way to Central Park where the rest of New York seemed to be. It was Good Friday and a holiday and the weather was splendid so it was a great place to spend our last few hours.
Central Park on our last day, what a lovely morning we spent there.

The blossom was blooming, there were daffodils and bluebells everywhere and everybody was doing their own thing. Some were jogging, others were biking (even on tandems), some were playing baseball, others were sunbathing and had stripped off most of their clothes and others like us were exploring the park, enjoying the scenery and making their way to Strawberry Fields, that peace park dedicated to the Beatles and the Imagine plaque which people flocked to like us.
The Imagine plaque in Strawberry fields in Central Park.
And very soon our American adventure was over. At 13.30 we were waiting outside our hotel for dear Javier and Ana who came to pick us up and drive us to JFK. Our plane was not leaving till 18h but we were worried about possible overbooking and the tight security. And this line now brings me back to where I began at in the lounge at Terminal 7. I am now writing from home with jet lag and nearly falling asleep. Our flight was on time and uneventful but we didn’t sleep a wink because of the time difference.

New York is my kind of city and a place like London or Paris that you can go back to again and again. So I said farewell and not goodbye and look forward to going there again in the not too distant future, to that great melting pot, the capital of the world, the Big Apple in all senses of the words.

And that my friends, is my post on New York. Tomorrow, Easter Day, Adele and Bernard will be coming to stay and another chapter of our life begins. Till next week,

Cheers / Masha
PS if you haven't already seen the full collection of photos on Facebook here they are, part one and part two.