Another rainy day in Fiji…so another update for you! This time it’s all about my visit to the lovely Kristen Ragazzo! I met Kristen in Thailand and did a trip through Laos to Vietnam with her, we clicked instantly and became ‘best friends forever’ (that is official, we made a contract!) I went over to Ireland in February whilst Kristen was there with her family (it’s a shame I didn’t get to see her parents Janice and Tony…Uncle Felix I’ll get to you one day!) and as I was in the area I just had to pop out of the city to see her! Kristen is perhaps best known for her ‘Seeing the World - One Dance at a Time’ video (if you haven’t seen it you should check it out. It’s BRILLIANT courtesy of Kristen’s talented TV producer brother, I’m in it, doing so embarrassing dancing: ).
It sounds like I’m writing one of those things at the start of a book (where they write about the author!) about Kristen!
TORONTO, Canada to LARCHMONT, Westchester, New York – Friday 11th November 2011
The flight over from Toronto to JFK was a little bumpy, but I got through it, no panicking! I got an airport transfer bus to Grand Central Station (and impressed myself by knowing when we were entering Manhattan from Queens and when we arrived at Grand Central before we were told). I was due to run into Grand Central get a ticket and get straight on a train out to Larchmont (Kristen had been kindly texting me up to date times) but on entering Grand Central you can’t fail to be impressed by the building, it really is something. I’ve been inside before but I actually went ‘wow’ this time when I walked in, so I had to take some pictures I got my ticket, sped towards the platform and got straight onto a train, lodging myself against a partition to try and keep my backpack out of the way. Phew, it was a relief! I’d been a little nervous about the whole journey; travelling out of Grand Central with two big bags during a New York Friday rush hour, but it was surprisingly straight forward.
Kristen and her lovely boyfriend Dan were at Larchmont station to meet me and we had a short walk to Kristen’s apartment which is sooooooooo nice! It’s really cosy and full of pictures and memorabilia from Kristen’s trip and it smelled really good! We had a chat and a sit down and some giggles, mainly over Dan’s accent bless him. Just so you know we’re not mean I’d better give you the background…Dan is from New York, but honestly sounds to me like he’s from the deep south, it’s a good accent. I suggested maybe it sounded like he was from Alabama so he found a You Tube clip of someone who was actually from Alabama to disprove my theory but was thwarted when the person speaking on the clip said “Hi, my name’s Lieutenant Dan and I’m from Alabama” (like in Forest Gump). You probably had to be there! Dan is a US Army veteran and spent time in many places, including Afghanistan, some of it on Black Hawk’s. He’s just come out of the army and has some stuff so when I got in his Dodge Dakota to go into Larchmont for dinner I saw some gen-u-ine US Army material (he’d just been in to see Kristen’s class to talk about Veteran’s Day). We went to a really nice Tapas place, it was delicious, then headed back to Kristen’s and on the way back a SKUNK crossed the road in front of me. Kristen and Dan were amused that I’d found that so exciting, wasn’t quick enough to get a picture though. They said you can smell a skunk from blocks away (the next day Kristen and I were driving down a highway and she thought she smelled a skunk smell, you can smell them even across a busy road!). Back at Kristen’s we had some homemade cookies (which were delicious also) and tried to watch some Seinfeld but I was falling asleep.
Hudson Valley – Saturday 12th November 2011
We had a nice slow start then headed out to a diner for some brunch. Dan recommended a typical American breakfast so I had pancakes, syrup, sausage, bacon and eggs…all on the same plate! I find it totally random that Americans will have sweet stuff like pancakes and syrup with bacon and eggs. It’s so nice though so I understand why! Kristen and I then headed to Lyndhurst Castle for a look around, following Dan to make sure we didn’t get lost through the beautiful countryside. Thank goodness Dan was there as when we arrived we realised we didn’t have any money to pay and literally had to count out our quarters, dimes and cents! I think Dan contributed the most and he wasn’t even coming in with us. We took a drive around the gardens which are on the bank of the Hudson River and are very pretty, giving amazing views over the river, I love the fall (aka autumn) colours.
We then went for our tour of the house which was so interesting (apologies for the upcoming facts), we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside though, National Trust rules so now here’s all the interesting things I learned...! The house was built by William Paulding who was a 2 times Mayor of New York and designed by the architect Alexander Jackson Davis. Paulding wanted a house that meant he and his family could live close to nature so there are lots of doors opening out onto the veranda. The house is in the typical ‘romantic gothic revival style’. The next owner was Merritt who was a merchant and an inventor. He made the house bigger (again employing Alexander Jackson Davis), more elaborate and built a huge greenhouse (that unfortunately a fire later destroyed, it’s just a shell now). The next owner was Jay Gould, a railway tycoon (vilified as an archetypal robber baron) whose family lived there for years and years. He didn’t make major changes to the house, just enhanced what was there. Gould in his time was the richest man in America, in relative terms his position in society and wealth was higher than that of Bill Gates (he was mentioned in Manhattan on our bus tour when they were telling us about the richest men ever). As each family moved they left everything in the house, so it’s furnished by a mixture of different families tastes, apparently it was cheaper at the time to just leave things and buy new things in a new house rather than get carriages to take it all away. The inside of the house was very nice; there is a lot of fake decoration, for example walls were painted to look like stone or leather and beams were painted to look like different types of wood. I originally thought that was because they were cheap, but our guide told us it was designed like that (all by Alexander Jackson Davis who designed the inside and out) because it demonstrated wealth and taste. It’s only when you look up close on say the walls that you can see the painted lines to make it look like stone. Gould’s family was really interesting (I love looking around old houses and learning about the people who lived there, Kristen and I were both inspired to learn more about that period in American history). Although he was known as a greedy robber baron he was a family man, much loved by his children and did a lot of good, although he didn’t want people to know it (his daughter would ask him to donate money to causes, but he’d only do it anonymously). He owned a 250ft steam yacht called Atalanta, the biggest of its time and installed a bowling alley and indoor pool at his house for his family to enjoy. His children despite their wealth lived relatively normal lives, learning what was important (a note from Anna to her sister Helen read “I know where the cakes kept”. Helen became a big philanthropist; when she lived in the house after her father died she did a lot for and with the local community, like installing lesson rooms and inviting the public in to see the gardens. She was a spinster until her mid-forties when she met a (very good looking!) guy whilst they were both helping the rescue effort of a big train crash. They married and adopted 4 children and lived very happily in the house. When Helen died her younger sister Anna (who had married a very rich French man and was living in France) returned to New York and bought the house off of Finlay; again she did a lot of good for example entertaining soldiers during World War II and on her death gifted the house to the National Trust so everyone could enjoy the house her “father and sister loved so much”.
After Lyndhurst Castle we crossed over the river to Nyack where Dan lives (had a shock when I looked out towards the river and spotted naked men through a window! Think they were changing for sports or something! It was a case of “My eyes, My eyes!”, Kristen thought it was hilarious) and met up with him to get some gas (aka petrol!) which we worked out at being 60p a litre; isn’t ours in the UK over double that price?! I couldn’t remember if we worked in litres or gallons. Why is there such a difference? Perhaps the tax we pay?! We pay more tax on everything in the UK, it’s lower in the US but then they do have to pay for things like healthcare. We climbed up a massive hill (hard work, especially as the leaves were hiding BIG holes!) but worth it. The sun was going down and the way the reddish light was reflecting off the trees was beautiful. We just made it for when the sun went down; the views over the Hudson were amazing, it’s so vast, and it was so nice up there, gave me a warm and lovely feeling. I liked hearing the sound of the trains (they have to sound their horn every time they go over a road crossing) and it sounded like the old trains from the films, different to ours. Once we’d got back down (luckily just before it was completely dark because all I kept thinking about was the Blair Witch Project) we headed to New Jersey (to tick off another state, and get even cheaper gas) and picked up some wine and New York pizza on the way home (Dan and Kristen were keen on me trying all the New York food, it wasn’t stopping me getting fatter…the diet starts in Australia…hoping can sweet talk Drew into cooking me some lovely low fat dinners!). I had a slice or two with a Martini Kristen made for me and then we headed to Kristen’s friend Kath’s apartment in White Plains for her birthday gathering. I had an incident whilst I was getting ready, Kristen tried to teach me how to curl my hair a bit and on my first try I put a massive kink/line in it that wouldn’t come out so I gave up, look terrible for the whole night! It was a really nice night, spending time with the locals, reminded me why I love travel, you meet some amazing people and get to have some amazing experiences (Cazzler, it’s that ‘A’ word again!). Kath taught me a good hiccup cure, Kristen got nicely tipsy and Dan drove us home and had to put up with us singing. The timing of the last song was perfect, the ‘Wavin Flag’ Coca Cola World Cup Celebration song in Kristen’s dancing video so in the car park we had a good dance then collapsed off to bed!
Larchmont…to Los Angeles – Saturday 13th November 2011
We were up early again! Dan made us eggs and muffins (even took most of the white out for me) but did end up dropping one on the floor when he flipped it! I did some washing proper New York style, down to the basement to use the washers and dryers then we headed out to Larchmont for a proper New York hot dog, curly fries and a milkshake at Walter’s, which seemed a very famous place, we had to queue for about 15 minutes. It was REALLY good, the sauce which looked like Heinz sauce tasted amazing, my mouth is watering thinking about it now. We headed to Larchmont’s Manor Park, a private park on the Long Island Sound. The houses there were HUGE and really really nice, there’s some money there! Across the Sound you could see Long Island and we spent a pleasant hour looking around, it was a bit cold and windy so very moody and ruggedly pretty. There was a plaque about the founding trustees of the park and one was a Godwin! The colours of the trees were again amazing; I took a lot of pictures of trees. We got back to Kristen’s a 4pm and although I was going to get the 5.30pm train I knew that’d be a push so ended up going for the 4.30pm train which involved Kristen running ahead to get my ticket and Dan running with my backpack on his back and my other bag on his front to the station, I could hardly keep up and I only had my handbag! We had time to say bye on the platform. I was really sad to leave both of them, I consider Kristen a really good and true friend and an inspiration and am so glad I’ve had the opportunity to now see her 3 times (including the weekend before in New York) since Asia, I hope I see her again soon…maybe Australia…?! Or home? It was nice for Kristen to meet Katie and Vicky, it’d be nice for her to meet some more. And Dan is really awesome, she’s done well there, such a nice guy! Thank you so much Kristen and Dan for looking after me so well (good joooooooooob!), having so much fun and helping me eat so much American food!
I got to sit down on the train to Grand Central which was nice, so was straight off, again wowing at the inside of the station and out to the airport transfer (luckily there was one ready to leave and it wasn’t full) and off back to JFK for my flight to Los Angeles. The traffic was terrible, so stop start all of the way, I found it really annoying – I don’t get why the New York drivers speed up to go the shortest distance (like 5 metres) then have to break REALLY hard. It was interesting though, listening to a group of some sort of students who’d spent the night before with Daniel Radcliffe doing something top secret…but they weren’t allowed to tell anyone (apparently a bus full of people was ok!). At the airport I got a nice Caesar salad and glass of wine after checking in (the American Airlines staff were not so friendly and were shouting about at people) whilst doing some online jobs (basically looking for hostels in Fiji, which for some reason I found really difficult).
Then it was off to board my plane for the 6 or so hour flight to Los Angeles…!
Aboriginal settlers arrived on the continent from Southeast Asia about 40,000 years before the first Europeans began exploration in the 17th century. No formal territorial claims were made until 1770, when Capt. James COOK took possession in the name...more info