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The End

The flght itself was uneventful, although me trying to change into my pyjama bottoms while sitting in my seat was no doubt amusing for the people around me, particularly Liz, who drew more attention to me by laughing! I watched the new Narnia film, which was pretty good and eventually managed to get a bit of sleep before we landed back in the UK first thing in the morning. After landing we went straight through passport control to baggage claim, where we took it in turns to wait for the bags and to change/make ourselves slightly more presentable after the long flight. Predictably, one of our bags was the very last one out, so the parents must have been getting pretty bored waiting for us. All bags claimed we went through to meet the family, excited to see them after six months. Jim (my brother) and Alex (Lizzie’s brother) were holding up a handmade sign (complete with flashing lights) welcoming us back and we were quickly enveloped in hugs from our parents, and then each others! Lizzie’s mum said to me, “Thank you so much for not wanting to go to Mexico, I was so worried!”. (Good to know that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want us to go.) One the tearful reunions were over, Lizzie and I opened up the extra suitcase and divided our stuff, before we all headed over to Costa for breakfast before hitting the M25 to go home and attempt to fit back into the real world.

 

 

The End.

The Last Day

After six months, it hasn’t really sunk in that today is our last day. Apart from suddenly needing to worry about the weight of the bags, packing when we get up in the morning is nothing new. I am SO looking forward to not having to live out of a suitcase. Anyway, we had made such plans for our last day, but reality caught up with us a little. Fitting all of our stuff into our various bags took a while, I struggled to fit everything in, even though I had taken things out of the suitcase. When we were eventually packed, showered and ready to go, we woke Reed and went for breakfast (and all important wi-fi) with him and Heli. Luckily the nice bagel place next to Starbucks also had wi-fi so we were spared yet another Starbucks visit.

Times Square

After a brief trip back to the apartment to drop off the laptop we headed out to Times Square. Our first stop was Western Union, where we had been told that we could check the balance on our travel money cards. We couldn’t and Liz had to spend quite a bit of money calling the customer service line in the UK (and getting cut off several times!) in order to find out how much she had left on her personal card, since she had to use it up before we left. On to Times Square in search of the perfect gift for Lizzie’s brother and a final photo op! We headed straight for “Lids” a shop that sells and personalises baseball caps. After choosing a cap and what personalisation she wanted Liz paid for the hat, and we went off to kill half an hour while it was done. Cue another Starbucks visit, this time to attempt online check in. Needless to say, with the amount of people logging on to Starbucks’ free wifi, this was not possible, and we decided to check in at the airport. After a brief stop to buy the ubiquitous “I heart NY” t shirt we headed back to Lids, but much to our disappointment we found that they couldn’t make the cap for copyright reasons, so Liz was given a refund (after they tried to sell her the cap that she no longer wanted without the personalisation!). The only advantage to this ridiculous waste of time was that she had used the remaining money on her travel money card, plus her credit card to pay for the hat, but they refunded the full amount to her credit card.

Hershey's Store in Times Square

Unfortunately, the time that all this had taken meant that we had to curtail our plans for the afternoon and head back to Reed’s to pick up our stuff, we had planned to get summertime pictures of Brooklyn Bridge, but simply did not have enough time. On the way back to Reed’s we stopped off at the Upper East Side branch of “Blockheads” (Mexican chain that Benny’s Burritos belongs to) to grab a takeaway lunch. Back at Reed’s we made quick work of the food and made our final preparations to return home. Unfortunately, limited suitcase space meant that I had no choice but to travel in my snow boots… not ideal in New York in June! Reed helped us downstairs with the bags, and the doorman called us a taxi and helped us load up our various bags. After a quick goodbye to Reed we were on our way. At the time, it had seemed a good idea to take a taxi to the E Train station, then to take the E train to the Air Train and the Air Train to the airport. Sounds easy? Now factor in 3 large suitcases (one without wheels), 2 hand luggage bags, a laptop and a handbag…oh, and rush hour! This was all in aid of not paying the $45 taxi fare to JFK, hindsight being 20/20, I would definitely pay that next time! After lots of pain, being squashed on the E Train an argument with the barriers at the E Train/Air Train stop we finally made it to the Air Train platform, where we were able to find a trolley to put us out of our misery. When we finally made it to check in, the lady from Delta was amazing. Delta’s online system had allocated us seats that weren’t together, that were both quite far back in the plane, the lovely Ruth-Ann at check in moved us from row 40 something up to row 24 where we were able to sit together. She also was nice enough to let us weigh all the bags and then open them up and move things around so that we didn’t have to pay for any of the excess weight. We told her that she was wonderful, and I must get round to writing to Delta to tell them that too. With the bags out of the way, we went through security and went in search of a much-needed drink. We headed straight for the bar, and ordered our drinks, Lizzie scoffed at my initial pint of water, but the pint of Gin and Tonic that followed went a long way towards making the hellish journey to the airport better, the theory being that the money we had saved on a taxi could be spent on drinks. With the price of drinks at the airport, this was actually pretty accurate and after paying off our tab, we headed for the gate. It was only a short wait at the gate before we boarded the plane to leave the US, and our epic six month trip behind us.

Speaks for itself...

After our early night last night, we were actually up and out at a reasonable time, and headed to Starbucks for breakfast (and free wi-fi of course). We managed to get everything we needed to do online done, including finding some Gossip Girl locations in the city to visit during the day.

Arty Yellow Cab shot...

After a brief trip back to the apartment to drop off the laptop, we headed a few blocks north to our first destination. Our first two locations are both used for external shots of the schools in Gossip Girl. While they were recognisable, they did not look as they do in the TV show, which was a little disappointing.

The school steps from Gossip Girl

This left us at about 100thSt, right next to Central Park, so rather than walk back down the road, we walked through the park instead. It was a beautiful day and we strolled slowly around the reservoir towards the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After finding some (expensive) ice-cream, we sat to eat it on the steps of the Met, while enjoying the sunshine.

Ice cream on the Met steps. 🙂

Since we were so close to the apartment, it made sense to pop back there for a drink rather than paying for one, so we did that before walking south this time towards Ralph’s Candy Bar, featured in Gossip Girl, but worth a visit in its own right; 3 floors of sugary, calorific goodness!

Ralph's Candy Bar

The store was really amazing, and I had to be very restrained not to buy too much stuff, I did however bow to pressure and was talked into tasting some fudge, which was delicious, but really expensive, so I didn’t get any. Bags of sweets in hand we headed a few blocks west to Central Park, where we bought cold drinks and found a shady spot to sit for a few minutes before walking around the pond. (Once again this is a Gossip Girl location, but we would have visited it even if it hadn’t been.)

Duck Pond in Central Park

Since it was such a nice afternoon, the pictures came out pretty well. Unfortunately during our walk Lizzie discovered that her passport was missing from her handbag, which was rather worrying. We caught the subway back up to the apartment to make sure that it was there, luckily it was, hidden in the folds of the sheet on Lizzie’s bed. It was so hot outside and on the subway that we sat down with the fan on for a while before heading back out refreshed.

Brooklyn Bridge

We caught the subway down to Brooklyn Bridge and walked across it, something that we had both wanted to do while in NYC but hadn’t managed to squeeze in before. The lovely weather held and it was quite a pleasant walk, although the bridge was quite crowded with pedestrians and cyclists. By the time we reached the other side we were too tired and hungry to look for the loft from Gossip Girl, and headed straight to the subway to go over to Greenwich Village for dinner. We returned to Benny’s Burritos, an amazing Mexican which we visited the last time we were in NYC in January. It is quite popular (always a good sign) so we waited at the bar with some delicious raspberry frozen margaritas until there was a table for us. It was ready much quicker than expected and we were soon sitting down to order our food. Lizzie went for the same as she had last time and I went for a chicken quesadilla, which was amazing, but huge, and I didn’t manage to finish it. Since the food appeared (and disappeared) so quickly, we were ready long before we had arranged to meet Rabi, Stuart, Reed and Heli, and mindful of the queue for tables, we paid up and went to wait at the park just down the street.

Art on the Subway

It was starting to get dark and the park was full of fireflies which was really cool. We took turns going to check if the others were waiting at the restaurant, and Lizzie reappeared with Rabi and Stuart in tow and we heard from Reed and Heli that they would come along later on.

Smile!

We headed back to Cubby Hole, a bar that we had visited in January, which was busy, but good fun. We spent a couple of hours there chatting over drinks, Reed and Heli eventually managed to locate us and joined us for a drink or two before we all called it a night.

Reed eating a rainbow...

Smiley happy people... and some weirdo at the front!

Back in NYC

Our plans to get up and out bright and early flew straight out of the window and we enjoyed a lie in and then went out for breakfast with Heli at a place that Reed had recommended to us. It was busy but the food was good and the portions enormous – none of us managed to finish. After breakfast Lizzie and I headed back to the apartment to shower and Heli disappeared off to go adventuring. Although we had great plans for the day, neither of us were feeling particularly energetic, so we watched the last two episodes of Gossip Girl before showering and heading out, armed with the laptop and hoping to spend some time blogging, while the other used Skype on the iPhone. Unfortunately, none of the Starbucks in the area we were in had any seating at all, so our only option was to use the wifi on the iphone briefly, since there was nowhere that we could plug the laptop in. Sad times. After our Starbucks failure, we wandered around a few shops, where I continued my search for a floaty top but to no avail. We ended up in Times Square, and since I had plans to meet Rabi and Stuart for dinner, Lizzie headed home and I went off to meet them.

Rabi!

I arrived rather early, but found a convenient bookshop which kept me occupied until it was time to go and meet them. It was so good to see them again, we ate in a really nice Italian restaurant that had some of the nicest (and most authentic) pizza I’ve had in a while. We finished our meal with a trio of delicious gelato (olive oil, dark chocolate and grapefruit campari) which was amazing; the flavours although they sound bizarre went together remarkably well. Since it was still early, and a nice evening we wandered around Washington Square Park for a while, listening to people playing piano (there is a project that has put grand pianos around the city for people to play) and generally people watching and chatting, we also spent a while playing with the colour select mode on my camera.

Piano...with added "colour selection mode" fun!

They then decided to take me to their favourite cupcake bakery which only makes miniature cupcakes. We bought 6 mini cupcakes which we shared, they were so nice, I can see why it is their favourite. I wonder if they ship internationally…? On second thoughts… I’m not sure the cupcakes would taste as great after crossing the Atlantic. Once we had demolished our cupcakes (a few minutes after leaving the store) we found ourselves in Union Square where we found a place to sit and spent the next hour or so playing cards and chatting. At around 10pm I headed back to Reed’s where I found Lizzie and Reed sitting in the den with empty pizza boxes, great minds think alike and all that! I blogged for a short while before heading to bed, planning to actually do some proper sightseeing tomorrow.

We had booked our taxi for 12noon and planned to go to breakfast, but Lizzie had a photo disaster that definitely took precedence over these plans. Luckily, Daddy Quill managed to retrieve the photos by remotely accessing her computer, but it was a tense and stressful hour whilst we waited to see if the pictures could be recovered. All the stuff that we had planned to sell on Craigslist had not sold, so we were left with a whole load of stuff to take to a charity shop, but none of the local ones accepted anything but clothes. Luckily, one of the ladies who worked in the hotel was going camping in the summer and was happy to take all of the camping stuff off our hands. Unfortunately we didn’t get anything for it, but at least it has gone to a good home rather than landfill! Our taxi dropped us off just outside the bus terminal, where a kind lady directed us to a desk where they called a man with a trolley to take our bags to the gate. While I waited with the bags, Lizzie went to pick up our tickets, but unfortunately they needed to see the bags, so we dragged them over to be weighed and labelled, before returning to the gate. Lizzie went off in search of lunch/breakfast for us while I waited with all the stuff, and just before 2pm we loaded the stuff onto the bus and found our seats. Several episodes of Gossip Girl later, I was feeling a little travel sick, but more importantly, we were only an hour away from New York. Since most of the occupants of the bus had got off at Hartford, Connecticut, there were lots of empty seats, so I moved to the seats in front to look out of the window and doze for the remainder of the journey. We arrived at Port Authority right on time, and after struggling with all the bags up to the main entrance, hailed a taxi to take us up to Reed’s place. (Reed is a friend of mine from St Andrews, who very kindly agreed to let us stay with him in New York for our last few nights, saving us literally hundreds of dollars!) The taxi was a great deal cheaper than we had expected, and Reed was waiting for us at the front door, with the doorman, to help us with all of our bags. Once we had got everything up to the apartment, we chilled out for a while before going out for dinner with Reed and his friend Heli who is visiting from Finland. We eventually settled on a Greek restaurant where we had a wonderful meal, followed by drinks at a nearby bar. I am pretty sure that I was the reason that we headed home after a couple of drinks since I was completely exhausted and almost falling asleep at the table. The others stayed up chatting over a few beers but I went almost straight to bed when we got back.

Today we had planned to do the Harvard Tour, but due to the forecast thunderstorms both the 10am and the 2pm tours were cancelled. We decided that we couldn’t be bothered to go into Boston in this sort of weather, given that the only thing we had left to do was the Harvard tour, having spent a week in Boston earlier in the trip. After showering, watching some tv and attempting to rationalise all of our stuff, we decided that we were far too hungry, so headed out to find some breakfast/lunch. The first place we stumbled upon was a local diner, with breakfast, lunch and dinner on the menu, perfect. It did seem to be a bit of a local place for local people, and we were stared at a little, but the staff were friendly enough. True to form, we went for breakfast, and I had the most delicious French toast that I have ever had. On the way back to the hotel I decided to see how much it would be to have a French manicure, something I have been planning to do while in the US but haven’t yet got around to. They were able to fit me in later in the afternoon, so we headed back to the hotel to watch TV for a couple of hours before heading back out. Lizzie came with me to have her eyebrows tinted, but she was done and had headed back before I was even seen. Eventually, an hour after my original appointment time I was asked to head down to the spa, where the manicurist apologised profusely for the delay. (The receptionist couldn’t have cared less and didn’t tell me there was a delay until I asked after waiting for 40 minutes!) I’ve never had a manicure before and it was very enjoyable, and I left with strict instructions not to touch anything for a while so I didn’t chip my nails. Once my nails were sufficiently dry the rest of the evening was spent alternating between watching TV and repacking our suitcases in an attempt to get something that we could actually manage to carry since we no longer have a car. 😦

Today was a sad day, today, we said goodbye to the car, who has been with us for so many miles. (About 23,000!) We were up at 6 and after packing up the car, stopped off for breakfast in town before hitting the road. Breakfast was as delicious as yesterday, and the service was so quick that we were on our way by half past 7. We arrived at our hotel in Wakefield (just north of Boston – the closest we could afford), at about half 12ish and although it was too early to check in, the lady at the front desk let us pile all of our stuff into a locked function room for safekeeping until later on. With the car empty, we headed back to downtown Boston to return it to Alamo. After a battle with the GPS, we finally found it, and drove up to the 7th floor to the Alamo returns section. As we pulled into the space we were greeted by Don, one of the managers, who we have spoken to numerous times over the last few months. A few photos later, we bid Elliot (numberplate was 192 LE8, LE8 = Elliot) a fond farewell and took the elevator down to the main office to sort out the paperwork. This didn’t take very long and we then walked down to South Station to do battle with public transport to get us back to the hotel. Back at the hotel we shifted all our stuff to our room then collapsed on our respective beds and although we did a little repacking, spent much of the evening doing not much at all, other than ordering pizza for dinner.

( A collection of Elliot photos to follow…)

 

After a bit of a lie in, we got up to register, since that had to be done before 10am, and then went back to bed with our books for a while. At about 11ish we got up and headed into the town of Bar Harbour for some breakfast. We were starting to despair after finding nothing but restaurants serving lobster, when we came across a restaurant called “Jeanie’s Breakfast”, which looked promising. It was amazing, and after a delicious cooked breakfast, we vowed to come back for more of the same tomorrow before heading south to Boston.

Bar Harbour

Bar Harbour was obviously a town which relies heavily on the tourist trade, but this was great for us since there were lots of lovely little gift shops where we managed to find gifts for most of the people that we still had to buy for. We went back to move out car just as the parking warden was coming around, and when I asked him how the system works he said since he had just marked our car (with chalk – a very high tech system) we could stay for another two hours. We did some more shopping and wandered down to the waterfront to take some pictures of the boats and the stunning views. After double checking that the internet café would still be open upon our return, we took a scenic drive through Acadia National Park towards Bass Harbour Lighthouse, which we just had to see, since it is the photo on our National Park Pass, and we have been looking at it for six months.

Bass Harbour Lighthouse

It was quite a long drive, with several stops for photos along the way. Unfortunately, the photo of the lighthouse that we wanted to recreate appeared to have been taken from a boat, in an area that is not accessible to the general public. This was a little disappointing, but we got to see the lighthouse itself which was the main thing.

Something we found along the way...

We then headed back to Bar Harbour by another route to use the internet for an hour before finding somewhere for dinner. We decided to check out a newly opened vegetarian café, which although a little expensive, was delicious, and the portions were so huge that we had plenty left to take away for lunch the next day. We headed back to the campsite to rationalise the car ready to return it tomorrow before heading back out to investigate the public showers, which were a little expensive at $2 per 4 minutes, but were clean and had plenty of hot water. After drying our hair a little by blasting the heating in the car, we went back to the campsite to hang out by our neighbours campfire for a bit before going to bed.

After an earlyish start, we left Spencer’s when he left for work. We headed straight for the nearest Starbucks for some last minute planning and sorting out which we had to get done. After almost two hours we still weren’t done, but decided to get on the road and find more internet later on. We were delighted to discover that the outlets that we had earmarked to visit were only 40 minutes away so less than an hour later we pulled up to GAP. Once there we tried on lots of clothes and spent lots of money. We also visited Banana Republic, where Liz bought a gorgeous dress. Unfortunately we then had to head back to Starbucks, to start the attempt at selling all our camping stuff and tick off the rest of the things on our to do list that required the internet. It felt like no time had passed and we suddenly realised that it was almost 4pm, and with a “first come, first served” campsite, we really needed to get there. The driving was much like it always is; swapping back and forth with the occasional stop for gas, and some Chinese food for dinner. By the time we arrived at Bar Harbor it was after 9pm and we had to ask for directions to the campsite. Luckily for us it was easy to find, and after hours registration only involved selecting an available campsite and registering in the morning. We set up the tent in the rain, got ready for bed and curled up in our sleeping bags to listen to the rain, which was very relaxing and we were soon asleep. Rainy camping is much nicer when it isn’t freezing cold!

Today involved a lot of driving. Ten hours of driving to be exact. We left Ashley’s at 7am, and had crossed the border back into the USA by about 8.30am. Wanting to get to Spencer’s (a friend of Lizzie’s from St Andrews) at a reasonable time we only took short stops all day, eating in the car while the other person was driving. We arrived at Spencer’s at about 5.30 and after a much needed cup of tea and a chat, we walked down into Groton for dinner. Dinner was at a lovely Italian place with a package store next door where you went to buy your own alcohol. After dinner we headed back to Spencer’s and spent the evening playing board games, chatting and watching TV, which was wonderful. The only damper on the evening was when we checked our group bank account to see how it was looking to find that we only had £12.02 left and just over a week and two expensive cities to go. It seems that our estimations of how much gas would cost to get us back across the country were quite far out. After a little panic, we opted to definitely camp at Bar Harbour (our next stop) since that would only cost us $20 per night, and try to do Boston and New York as cheaply as possible.