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Some people have expressed the opinion that to embark on a five-month trip overseas, alone, might be a little foolhardy. Not to mention the carbon footprint of all that air travel! I confess that there are certainly moments when it’s a little daunting. But overcoming the daunting moments provides an enormous sense of satisfaction. And being a ‘slightly older’ woman alone has great compensations when it comes to being offered assistance! So – nothing ventured, nothing gained …Everyone who travels internationally knows that fluids in a cabin bag must be restricted to 100ml. I checked and rechecked all my fluids. How was it then, that at the very last minute, finding that there was a little more space in my cabin bag than I’d anticipated, I popped in a bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc for my hostess in New York?

I checked in internationally at Wellington airport without any hassle. When I got to security in Auckland, I was called aside and asked to open my bag. I was happy. I knew there was nothing in my bag to worry about. It wasn’t until the officer asked me if I knew about the fluid restriction that the penny dropped! Oh my goodness! I tried hard to persuade him to slip it under the counter and share it with his mates that evening but he told me firmly that it had to be thrown in the bin. What a waste of excellent wine! And how sad not to be able to arrive at my destination in New York and crack open a bottle without unpacking my very large and very heavy case!

Last year I missed my connecting flight to New York because one piece of my luggage arrived at a different carousel. Learning from this mistake I enlisted the help of a Qantas official. He willingly went and found my croquet mallet for me in the ‘strange sized objects’ area. This time I was through transit in a flash and I’d recommend this course of action to anyone with limited time to connect.

So, my hostess and I were in bed by midnight. I’d arrived safely in New York!

The next day, Liz and I caught the 11.00 a.m. train to Boston from New York’s Penn Station on 34th Street – two stops uptown from Liz’s apartment on West 5th Street. Liz was attending a Conference for Women in Leadership and I tagged along so that I could explore, while she got inspired. Although the train journey was great and comfortable, I have to say that the scenery in between NY and Boston is uninspiring – and it just got colder and colder! And this was on 2 May. By the time we got to Boston – three and a half hours later – it was winter! We walked the two kilometers from South Station (pictured) to the Seaport Hotel just to stretch our legs – but we had to walk fast to keep warm!

We’d met a lovely man called Jo on the train. He was from the Boston area and regaled us with all sorts of things to do, including dinner at an Italian restaurant, Giacomo’s on Hanover Street, in the heart of the Italian quarter. It turned out to be very popular so there was a line (queue) outside – in the rain! But it was worth it – great atmosphere, great food, and great prices! Liz and I thoroughly enjoyed our meal, as you can see here. If you’re in Boston and like Italian food, it’s a must.

The next morning, Saturday 3 May, I was picked up at the Hotel by a bus company called the Beantown Trolley Tours – a hop-on, hop-off, sightseeing bus with great commentary. I learned a lot – and hope I can remember some of it accurately enough to mention it here!

First of all, Boston is called Bean Town! Where this originated is uncertain. The Beaneaters were a baseball team in the 1870s and it’s thought that this contributed a lot to Boston gaining the nickname. A ‘beaneater’ was, however, a derogatory term. It appears that between 1900 and 1910, a resourceful person coined the phrase: “You don’t know beans until you come to Boston.” It’s possible that this quotation is likely to be the origin of what popularized Boston for baked beans nationally, and led to the nickname “Bean Town.” Our bus driver asked us if we knew the difference between how we might be approached by natives of New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. Of course, we didn’t. So he told us that New Yorkers would ask us what job we did, people from LA would ask us what sort of car we drove while Bostonians would ask us what we’d like to eat. If we said that we’d have whatever they were having, then we’d end up with a mug of beer, a huge corn on the cob, dripping butter, and a two-foot crayfish. This might be accompanied by 239 beans – the exact number being important because if one more is added it’d be 240. (Work it out for yourself with the all-important American accent!)

You’ve probably heard about the Boston Tea Party. This was an act of direct action against Great Britain by the American colonists. They were angry about the perceived unfairness of taxes imposed on them despite a lack of representation in the Westminster Parliament. One example was the Tea Act which allowed the East India Company to sell tea to the colonies directly, without payment of any customs or duties.

On 16 December 1773, the evening before three ships, the Dartmouth, Beaver, and Eleanour, were about to unload their cargoes of tea, the ‘Sons of Liberty’ (the patriots), disguised as Narragansett Indians, boarded the ships during the night and brought casks of tea from the holds to the decks. Armed with small hatchets, they split open the casks and poured the tea overboard, about a million pound’s worth in today’s terms. The British were furious and John Hancock, one of the leaders of the Sons of Liberty, and his lawyer, Samuel Adams, among others, were charged with treason.

The Port of Boston was closed, the British Army was stationed in Boston and a very uneasy situation prevailed.

You may also have heard of ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’ – a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which was memorized by countless American schoolchildren. This picture is one that has long fuelled their imagination!

The poem is very long and you’ll doubtless remember that it starts off with the words:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere …..

Although the poem was relied on for many years to be historically accurate, it wasn’t actually true that Paul Revere completed the famous midnight ride on the night of 18/19 April 1775. His mission was to warn the patriots, led by Samuel Adams and John Hancock, that the British Army was beginning a march from Boston to Lexington by crossing the Charles River, ostensibly to arrest Hancock and Adams and seize the weapons stores in Concord. Paul Revere was, in fact, only one of several riders who were given the task but only reached Lexington while other riders completed the journey to Concord.

The battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. The colonists are said to have been stunned by their victory over the Red Coats (called Lobsterbacks by the locals!). The warnings, delivered by three riders, successfully allowed the militia to repel the British troops in Concord who were then harried by guerilla fire along the road back to Boston. It’s amazing, despite many inaccuracies, how the ride of Paul Revere potentially changed the course of history.

We crossed the Charles River on a very unusual modern bridge and found ourselves in Cambridge, the home of Harvard University. There are a couple of interesting facts about Harvard. One is that it wasn’t founded by John Harvard, although it took his name – he was just one of many benefactors. Secondly, the statue erected in his honour is not, in fact, of John Harvard but of a student who was paid to pose for it!

It was just as well that we had an entertaining bus driver because there was very little incentive to leave the bus on one of the many on/off stops and explore on foot in the cold and heavy drizzle. And taking photos from the bus was more attractive in the cold, foggy conditions. This photo is of an area of parkland on the edge of the city with blossom trying hard to emerge and tulips just showing their faces.

I did, however, make one stop which was certainly worth the rain and the cold. That was at the Mary Baker Eddy Library and the stunning church alongside.

Mary Baker Eddy founded the Church of Christian Science in 1879 (not to be confused with the Church of Scientology). Christian Science teaches that the reality of God denies the reality of sin, sickness, death and the material world. There are many accounts of miraculous healing and believers often refused traditional medical treatments. The current worldwide membership is somewhere between one and four hundred thousand.

In February 1866, Mary Baker Eddy (known at the time as Mary Glover) was healed of an injury “that neither medicine nor surgery could reach”. I checked out some of these details on the publicity they provide because it was pretty interesting (to me).

According to her personal accounts, when she appeared to be near death, she called out for her Bible. She turned it to Matthew 9:2, which tells the story of Jesus healing a man who was sick with palsy, and after pondering the meaning of the passage, found herself suddenly well and able to get up. In her autobiography, Retrospection and Introspection, she wrote:

‘Even to the homeopathic physician who attended me, and rejoiced in my recovery, I could not then explain the modus of my relief. I could only assure him that the divine Spirit had wrought the miracle – a miracle which later I found to be in perfect scientific accord with divine law’.

Mary Baker Eddy called this discovery ‘Christian Science’, saying that she called it Christian because it was compassionate, helpful and spiritual. She claimed to be able to heal others and began to be called out to people whom the doctors of the time had been unable to help. A doctor in New Hampshire asked her to write about her work and she has written many books. People who read her books formed an organisation and a church developed with Mary Baker Eddy as its pastor.

The church itself was built in 1894 and is now dwarfed by the much larger domed structure which was added in 1906 and still stands today, boasting one of the world’s largest pipe organs, built in 1952. It is very beautiful, as you can see.

The Mary Baker Eddy Library itself is housed in an 11 storey structure which was built in 1934. It’s surrounded by a plaza which was built in the 1970’s and includes a large administration building, a colonnade, a reflecting pool and a fountain. It’s all very beautiful. Within the 11 storey structure is a three-story Mapparium – a stained glass globe of the world, as the world was configured at the end of the Second World War. You walk into the centre of the globe on a bridge and get a very different perspective of how the countries are laid out – and there’s an awful lot of sea! If you stand in the middle of the bridge and talk to yourself, you hear your words in stereophonic sound. If you go to one end of the bridge and whisper to a friend on the other end, they can hear you as if you’re standing in front of them.

Back at the hotel it was great to be warm again. Liz and I had a fairly quiet evening as we were both tired and it wasn’t until about 10.00 that I discovered that my nightie had disappeared!! That was a bit tragic! Of course I rang housekeeping who told me that it would be impossible for it to have gone down to the wash with the sheets because the housekeepers were taught to shake the sheets before removing them from the beds. However, they promised to go straight to the laundry and check. No joy! They promised to check again in the morning and could only offer me a towelling robe as a substitute. Not really suitable, even in the cold!

The next morning I rang again. The day staff had heard all about it from the night staff but they still weren’t having any luck. Trouble was that the nightie was white cotton and so were the sheets! It wasn’t until 10.00 a.m. on Sunday morning that the good news came that they’d found it and they were busily laundering it (again!) for me and would bring it up shortly. Sure enough, Robert, the day manager soon arrived at our door with what looked like a new nightie – wrapped in tissue paper and a plastic cover – just in time for me to pack it and get to the station for the train back to New York!

I went to New York in 2007 for five days so I knew what I wanted to see a second time. On 5 May, I took the subway uptown to 79th Street and headed straight for the Museum of Natural History, the front entrance of which is on 81st Street on the western edge of Central Park. It would take pages to describe it but suffice it to say that it’s well worth a visit from many standpoints. At its entrance is the imposing statue of Theodore Roosevelt who contributed so much to the Museum.

Leaving there, on a beautiful early summer’s day with temperatures around 26 degrees, I decided to walk across the park to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art A 2which is on the eastern edge of Central Park at 79th Street. The Park is probably about 3-4 kilometers across as the crow flies. It’s huge but here’s a photo I took that captures its essence.

Asking directions as I made my way across the Park (there are heaps of roads and pathways and they don’t run east/west but take lots of twists and turns) a kind New Yorker told me that the Met doesn’t open on a Monday so I headed downtown instead (south!).

There’s so much to see in New York and it was good to get another look at the Rockefeller Center on 47-50th Streets where they have wonderful special events – like skating on Christmas Day under a massive Christmas tree.

I revisited the Chrysler Building – third tallest – on the corner of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue – a classic example of Art Deco architecture and considered by many contemporary architects to be one of the finest buildings in New York City. There’s a great picture on the web – better than any I could take – that you can find on this link

I passed one of my favourite buildings, the tallest in Manhattan, the Empire State Building, situated between 33rd and 34th Streets.

Then I took another peek at Madison Square Gardens on 34th Street, best known perhaps as the home of the New York Knicks (Knickerbockers) of the NBA. The arena lends its name to the Madison Square Garden Network, a cable television network that broadcasts most sporting events held in the Garden, as well as the concerts and entertainment events that take place at the venue. The MSG has undergone several transformations and relocations over the years and at the beginning of April this year, the MSG executives announced plans to once again renovate and modernise the current Garden in time for the Knicks and Rangers 2011-12 season! There’s a great picture here

And of course I had to pop my head inside Macy’s, part of a chain of mid-range American departments stores headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, the New York branch of which has been billed as the ‘world’s largest store’ with its one million square feet of selling space since it completed the 7th Avenue addition in 1924. It takes up a whole block and ties with London’s more upmarket Harrods in terms of the vastness of selling space! Inside, however, it wasn’t all that impressive.

I took heaps more photos – too many to show them all here! And my legs were very, very tired from all that walking – it’s 100 metres between each of the streets that go east/west so that’ll give you some idea of how far I walked! Liz lives on West 4th Street and I’d walked back from 81st Street – 7,700 metres!

Tuesday 6 May was disappointing because it’s my opinion that the Met isn’t half as impressive as the Natural History Museum. But that’s only my opinion. It’s pretty imposing, nonetheless as you may be able to tell from its front entrance here, and it holds heaps of sculptures inside as well as a lot of art and memorabilia!

I enjoyed the walk home again and found Bryant Park, a most wonderful area where people were at tables everywhere, playing chess, working on their laptops, just talking and eating or beside an umbrella structure called the Bryant Park reading room – an outside library! Here it is.

On both Monday and Tuesday Liz and I had gone out to dinner, once in Soho and once in Little Italy, both of which were very special. Here’s Liz choosing what to eat in Little Italy – al fresco of course in the warm spring-like weather.

What a life! New York is certainly a happening place and it didn’t disappoint on this visit. With such a wonderful hostess and guide, what more could one want?

And so on Wednesday, it was off to London on the amazing Sky Train to JFK from Howard Beach near the end of the blue line C on the subway. The flight to London leaves at 7.15 p.m. and is really too short to get a decent sleep. It’s immediately midnight as soon as the plane takes off and it’s only a flight of about 6-7 hours so, by the time you’ve had dinner, it’s almost time to have breakfast!!

I’d only been away from New Zealand for five days but already it felt like a month of Sundays (as my mother used to say!).

New York and Boston - 1-6 May 2008

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